Stat attack!: Players Championship review


Even though Martin Kaymer held the lead through every round of the Players Championship, he seemed almost an afterthought throughout the week.

All eyes were on the precocious Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old Texan, threatening to become the youngest winner in Players history.

Or Adam Scott, and his quest for the No. 1 ranking. There was Bubba Watson and his bid to win the Players and the Masters in the same year.

And we had our weekly questions about Phil Mickelson, who was still searching for his first top-10 finish of the season.

But Spieth stumbled Sunday, Scott and Watson faltered and Mickelson missed the cut, the first time he would do so at the Masters and the Players in the same year since 1997.

Kaymer kept rolling along. Only the weather delay made things interesting Sunday, with Kaymer finishing at 13-under 275 to hold off Jim Fuyrk by one stroke after making a 28-foot, 6-inch putt for par on the 17th hole that turned a certain playoff — and a return to the course Monday morning — into his second PGA Tour victory.

Kaymer became the fourth player to win a major, a World Golf Championship event and a Players Championship. Yes, the math is correct. Kaymer only has two PGA Tour victories because the 2011 WGC-HSBC Champions in China, which he won, was not an official PGA Tour event at the time. He won at the Stadium Course in record-breaking fashion. His 29 on the front-nine Thursday was the first sub-30 round in Players history, and his 63 matched three others for the lowest round in Stadium course history. 

Players who have won a major, a WGC event and the Players Championship

 Player Majors WGCs Players
 Tiger Woods 14 18 2
 Phil Mickelson 5 2 1
 Adam Scott 1 1 1
 Martin Kaymer 1 1 1

Kaymer’s victory shouldn’t have been a surprise. He has not missed the cut in six Players starts, and although this was his first top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass, he now has the lowest scoring average in history for players with at least 20 rounds at the Stadium Course.

Lowest scoring average, 20+ rounds at TPC Sawgrass

 Player Average Rounds
 Martin Kaymer 70.92 24
 Henrik Stenson 71.19 32
 Matt Kuchar 71.33 42
 Zach Johnson 71.39 38
 Luke Donald 71.43 33
 Sergio Garcia 71.53 56

Kaymer finished tied for third in the field in greens in regulation, becoming the ninth Players champion to finish in the top 10 in greens in regulation in the last 12 years.

Players champs who were in the top 10 in GIR since 2003

 Year Player GIR rank
 2014 Martin Kaymer T-3
 2013 Tiger Woods T-3
 2012 Matt Kuchar T-3
 2010 Tim Clark 4
 2008 Sergio Garcia 1
 2006 Stephen Ames T-1
 2005 Fred Funk 1
 2004 Adam Scott 1
 2003 Davis Love III 10

Kaymer’s long putt on the 17th hole Sunday was indicative of his week. He led the field with four putts made from more than 25 feet, none bigger than the snake he rolled in with the tournament in the balance. For the week he holed 339 feet of putts, tied for the fifth-most in the field.

Distance of putts made at the Players

 Rank Player Distance of putts made
 1 Scott Langley 367 feet, 6 inches
 2 Francesco Molinari 354 feet, 9 inches
 3 Jim Furyk 350 feet, 10 inches
 4 Henrik Stenson 339 feet, 2 inches
 T-5 Martin Kaymer 339 feet, 0 inches
 T-5 Brian Stuard 339 feet, 0 inches

But the Players wasn’t just about Martin Kaymer. It was about Jordan Spieth repeating his Masters performance with a spectacular tournament debut before coming up short. The game within the game was about Adam Scott (and Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar) coming up short in their quest for the top spot on the World Ranking. And it was about Rory McIlroy’s third consecutive event where he made the cut on the number only to finish with a back-door top 10. For Rory, the Players was the tale of two nines. He played the front nine in 8 over and the back nine in 17 under, a difference of 25 strokes. 

Rory McIlroy at the Players

 Round Front nine Back nine
 One +1 (37) -3 (33)
 Two +6 (42) -4 (32)
 Three +2 (38) -5 (31)
 Four -1 (35) -5 (31)
 Total +8 -17

McIlroy had a similar performance at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he was even par on the front nine and 8 under on the back during his T-8 finish. He also finished T-8 at the Masters but was a more equitable 1 under on the front and 1 over on the back.

Spieth finished T-4 in his first Players. As at the Masters, he was tied for the 54-hole lead. At Sawgrass he fell off the pace with a bogey on the fifth hole Sunday, his first of the week after 58 holes without one. Spieth would make four more bogeys in a final-round 74. He became the youngest player to finish in the top 10 in the Masters and the Players in the same year and was one of four players with a top 10 at both tournaments this year.

Players with top-10 finishes at the Players and the Masters

 Player Masters Players
 Jordan Spieth T-2 T-4
 Jimmy Walker T-8 T-6
 Rory McIlroy T-8 T-6
 Lee Westwood 7 T-6

Scott needed to shoot 68 Sunday to move to No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking. Instead he shot 73 and finished T-38. He will overtake Woods after this week’s Byron Nelson Championship. Matt Kuchar is the only player who could surpass Scott next week, but it’s unlikely the tournament will dole out enough first-place points for him to get there. Henrik Stenson would have gotten to No. 1 if he had finished seven strokes better Sunday. He would have needed a 67 to finish T-4, but instead shot 74 to finish T-34.

Finally, no statistical analysis about the Players would be complete without a look at the par-3 17th hole, which gave up the fewest number of water balls since 2003. There were only four balls in the pond on the weekend, another tournament low.

Water balls at the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass

 Year Water balls Weekend water balls
 2014 28 4
 2013 44 20
 2012 39 10
 2011 40 14
 2010 29 14
 2009 32 10
 2008 64 26
 2007 93 22
 2006 57 21
 2005 68 53
 2004 30 11
 2003 29 13