PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There is no Comeback Player of the Year Award on the PGA Tour any longer, it was traded in last season for the Courage Award, which honors “a player who, through courage and perseverance, has overcome extraordinary adversity, such as personal tragedy or debilitating injury or illness.”
While Martin Kaymer’s plight doesn’t dovetail into that definition, his play through four days at The Players was, by any measure, courageous.
Or, maybe brave would be a more apt description.
“You need to hit brave shots,” he said after Thursday’s course-record tying 63. “Even if you screw up once in a while, it's OK, everybody does that once in a while, but at least you play brave, and that's good playing and that's not playing like a wimp, just trying to get it over with.”
Playing brave like at the par-3 13th hole when the German challenged every drop of water and Pete Dye’s particular form of punishment with a tee shot to 15 feet for a two-putt par.
And at the iconic 17th hole after he endured an hour-and-a-half icing when Mother Nature rained on Mother’s Day.
Two holes earlier Kaymer had made a mess of No. 15 after the weather delay, driving into the trees left of the fairway and mis-hitting a chip on his way to a double-bogey 6 to drop his lead to a stroke over Jim Furyk, who had already completed his round.
The only way to describe the rest of Kaymer’s round was brave, although far from brilliant. An unlucky bounce at the 17th hole left him 64 feet from the pin, but he rolled in a 28-footer with 6 feet of break for par and pounded his drive into the heart of the 18th fairway.
“The way he played all day was brave,” said Kaymer’s caddie, Craig Connelly. “But 18 was a brave shot.”
Furyk watched Kaymer’s dicey up and down at the last from the players’ locker room, for the second consecutive week a bridesmaid on the PGA Tour.
Still, the veteran posted his second runner-up showing of 2014 on a golf course that hasn’t always had a friendly confines feel. In 19 starts he has just four top 10s at TPC Sawgrass.
“I've struggled at this golf course,” said Furyk, who closed with a 66 to finish one shot back. “My results haven't been nearly as good as I would have liked. I was on a roll coming in here and I wanted to continue it, but it's fun to play well in front of friends and family.”
There were other contenders. Sergio Garcia’s 70 was good for a third-place finish, giving him a win (2008), place (2007) and now show at the Tour’s flagship stop; and young Jordan Spieth (T-4) added another solid week to his burgeoning resume, although another Sunday swoon after his Masters miss may haunt him for a few days.
But after Kaymer, it was Justin Rose who had the most interesting Sunday. The Englishman had been assessed a two-stroke penalty on Saturday when a video review revealed his ball moved before hitting his third shot at No. 18.
But an hour before Rose teed off for his final round he was informed by Tour officials that the penalty was rescinded under a new decision dealing with high-definition rulings, making him the first player to essentially begin a round 2 under par.
“Overnight I read an article that explained the (new) rule, and I kind of thought it applied to my case,” said Rose, who closed with a 69 to tie for fourth place.
But there was no need for a high-definition review for Kaymer, whose performance was decidedly high-powered. He scorched the softer Stadium Course on Thursday with nine birdies and no bogeys and finished with rounds of 69, 72 and 71.
“There was a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations, and even though I was trying to talk about it in a way that it was only the first day, only the second day, but somewhere deep down you hope that you can bring it home,” said Kaymer, who won on the Tour for the first time since the 2010 PGA Championship.
It was the culmination of a long climb back for Kaymer, who had swooned from first in the world in 2011 to 61st and had failed to win anywhere in the world for 17 months.
But as impressive as Kaymer’s performance was, a quartet of would-be kings wilted in the humid heat. Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson all had the chance to overtake Tiger Woods, who has been on the indefinite DL since back surgery last month, atop the Official World Golf Ranking. That group was a combined 6 over par on Sunday.
The consolation prize for Scott, who tied for 38th after a closing 73, is that he will overtake Woods next week from his couch, the byproduct of divisors and lunar pull . . . or something like that.
“I think it’s a nice feather in the cap probably,” Scott said. “I mean, if I was never world No. 1 when I’m this close, I’d be disappointed, but I’d also much rather win the U.S. Open and not be No. 1 at all this year. That’s what it comes down to. There weren’t rankings back in the day, and guys won a lot of majors and that’s how they were remembered. I guess that’s still somewhat true as well.”
Kaymer, of course, has both, having climbed to world No. 1 in early 2011 and claimed the Wanamaker Trophy at Whistling Straits. Now he can add to that legacy a courageous comeback.
It was a brave performance, even more so considering the emotional cloud that hung over Kaymer on Sunday, Mother’s Day.
In 2008, Kaymer’s mother, Rina, died of cancer, and he said not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about her but added that at TPC Sawgrass, “I was just alone.”
Alone and courageous every step of the way.