Kaymer relishes Ryder Cup-like scenario at Sawgrass

By Jason SobelMay 11, 2014, 1:05 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There is a sweet little irony to Martin Kaymer being in contention to win here, on the home turf of PGA Tour headquarters, at one of its prized TPC backdrops.

It was just a few years ago, not long before Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship, when he couldn’t even get onto the practice tee of one of these courses. The native of Germany is a Scottsdale, Ariz., transplant and his home club, Whisper Rock, was closed on Mondays during the summer. So he called TPC Scottsdale, a top-10 player in the world seeking to practice one day each week at the facility.

“But I was not a PGA Tour member,” he recalled, “so I was not allowed to practice.”

Moral of the story: Kaymer has gotten used to being an outsider.

It happened again when he won his major championship later that summer. The biggest headlines afterward swirled around a big-hitting guy named Bubba Watson turning risk-reward into a harrowing defeat and another big hitter named Dustin Johnson carelessly grounding his club in a hazard on the final hole. Kaymer? He was the winner, but he was also an afterthought.

And now it’s happening yet again. He played 18 holes alongside American wunderkind Jordan Spieth in Saturday’s final pairing, with the two of them ending the day deadlocked at 12 under, three strokes clear of the next closest competitor. If you only listened to the partisan crowd, though, it felt like Kaymer was playing Garfunkel to Spieth’s Simon – just a sidekick along for the ride.

“I had the same experience when I was in the playoff against Bubba at the PGA,” explained Kaymer, who posted an even-par 72. “When you're trying to win a big tournament, usually the big tournaments, you play them in America, so I'm always a foreigner. It's a good challenge. It's another challenge of that day. It's not easy, but I know what's going to happen. I know what I can expect, and therefore it's OK.”

The truth is, we can extend the analogy one step further.

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The American and the European, essentially playing match play, trying to outduel each other? The scene owned the gravitas of a Ryder Cup – without the matching team uniforms.

“It felt a bit like a Ryder Cup match, but we didn't play in Europe, obviously,” Kaymer said with a smirk.

“With how great of a guy Martin is, I wish it didn't feel as much like a Ryder Cup,” added Spieth. “That's really kind of what it felt like out there, which is great. I think that's only going to help me to have momentum with the crowd behind me.”

This is the part of the story where a gentle reminder is offered: The last time a Ryder Cup was contested, two years ago at Medinah Country Club, it was Kaymer who clinched the winning point for the European side on U.S. soil.

None of this is to suggest that the two players were jingling coins in their pockets or producing any other forms of gamesmanship during the day. In fact, it was just the opposite.

After Spieth lipped out a birdie attempt on the 10th hole, they hit their tee shots on 11 and his playing partner sidled up next to him as they walked down the fairway.

“He's like, ‘Just don't worry about it; just have some fun; this is where you want to be,” Spieth related. “Which was really cool for him to come up and say that at the time. He did get to a couple‑shot lead at the time, so maybe that made him happier, but it was just really nice for him to do that in the setting that we were in.”

The biased gallery didn’t repay the favor.

When Kaymer missed his par putt on the final hole, it led to a burst of cheering from outside the ropes, the assembled crowd realizing the newest American hero would enter the final round in a tie for the lead.

“I wish [that] didn't happen,” Spieth said. “He handled it gracefully, just a class act, took his hat off, smiled. We were saying how much we enjoyed playing with each other and we'll enjoy it tomorrow.”

Yes, Sunday should be more of the same, with the two players enjoying each other’s company in the final pairing – and the fans treating the festivities like a Ryder Cup.

All of which should suit Kaymer just fine. He’s used to being an outsider. And he’s been pretty successful in this scenario over the years, too.

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

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Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

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Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”