PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Even without the healthiest grass in St. Johns County or the world’s top player, TPC Sawgrass and the PGA Tour’s crown jewel will offer a surprising number of storylines when Sunday’s soiree gets underway.
From a completed comeback to a much-anticipated coronation, the stage is set thanks to a rare miscue from Martin Kaymer at the iconic last hole.
Had the German scrambled for his par from behind the 18th green, or done anything of note to complete his round on a gusty day on the Stadium Course, officials may have been inclined to start etching his name into the crystal.
He had, after all, moved two strokes clear of Jordan Spieth with a birdie at the ninth hole in his journey back to relevance after two dismal calendars. Instead, he played the star-crossed final loop in 1 over par, his first over-par nine of the week, and begins Sunday’s 18 tied with the heir to the American golf crown.
“It was very tricky to do it today, you didn't have as many birdie chances as the first two days,” said Kaymer, who signed for a 72 and is at 12 under par. “I think it played tough today. Even when you hit fairways, it was gusty and therefore a little bit difficult to attack the flags.”
After three days of the world’s best players running amok on Pete Dye’s playground, in large part thanks to softer-than-normal greens, TPC Sawgrass swung back on Saturday.
Through three rounds, the 2014 Players looked more like the old March edition, spongy and scoreable, than the May version with its dry-roasted greens and fiery fairways. But thanks to a week of perfect weather, the greens have slowly but surely been on the mend following a chemical snafu that rendered some of the Stadium’s putting surfaces unplayable as recently as last week.
“This is a bit more of what we are used to seeing here,” said Sergio Garcia, who is tied for third place, three shots back after a third-round 69.
Garcia & Co. are hoping for more of the same on Sunday if they are going to catch Kaymer and Spieth, who is fresh off his runner-up finish at last month’s Masters and looking more in control of his emotions than ever.
Although the kid’s putter went cold on Saturday – he needed a week-high 28 putts – he still didn’t disappoint, winding shots through trees and over mounds at Nos. 14, 15 and 16 on his way to a 1-under 71.
“Augusta left me feeling a little hungry for it again, and here we are, and I have an opportunity to kind of really draw back on that round and the positives, the negatives and everything in between and go out there tomorrow and try and play the same way I played the first two rounds, and not exactly today, but I got some good bounces today,” said Spieth, who also entered the final round at the Masters tied for the lead but faded with a closing 72.
Like Augusta National, however, Spieth will have to deal with his emotions as well as an increasingly difficult golf course, which may favor his German playing partner.
The ultimate cruise control player on a thinking man’s golf course.
“There isn't a hole out there that's one that you can play brain‑dead. You've got to focus and it gets your full attention from the word go,” Lee Westwood, who is tied for eighth after a 71, said earlier this week.
But Kaymer has gone the other way. “Too much thinking is crap,” Kaymer said after a course-record tying 63 to start the week.
Born from the abyss of the last two seasons has been a simple reality that from a controlled fade come big things, like a PGA Championship and the looming possibility of a Players title.
Kaymer can now hit a draw – which was the ends that prompted him to retool his swing after winning the ’10 PGA – like at the sixth, when he drilled a low bullet into the fairway.
But on Sunday he is going to find out if he can do it when it counts, on a Sunday with a title, be it major or otherwise, on the line.
And for those scoring at home, Sunday’s comings and goings could also have an intriguing undercard with four players vying for the world’s top ranking.
Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar can all overtake Tiger Woods, who has been on the DL since the WGC-Cadillac Championship, with various finishes, but Scott may have the best chance.
Although he is tied for 28th, Scott needs only a top-16 finish to claim the top spot, while Stenson (he needs a top-6 finish), Watson (solo second) and Kuchar (win) are all tied for 13th place.
Turns out, the grass is plenty green enough at TPC Sawgrass.