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The Players Championship Recap: Kaymer Stops Thinking

Len Hochberg

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years, covering the Washington Capitals. He co-authored a book on the history of hockey.

Martin Kaymer, who was No. 1 in the world for about 20 minutes in 2011, entered last week at No. 61. And make no mistake, that required no asterisk. Kaymer hadn't been hurt; he just didn't play well enough to maintain that lofty standing. (He actually was atop the rankings for eight weeks.)

Of course, Kaymer was a Ryder Cup hero at Medinah in 2012, sinking the clinching putt for Europe, a six-footer for par on 18 to fend off Steve Stricker. But that still didn't turn his game around. In fact, he continued to plummet in the OWGR. So when he came to The Players Championship and opened with a record-tying 63, golf reporters en masse trotted out the mini-bio:

Won PGA Championship in 2010, was European money champ in 2010, became No. 1 early in 2011, hadn't won since the WGC-HSBC Champions in China late in 2011, all the talent in the world, began thinking too much, over-analyzed his beautiful swing, made swing changes.

So what changed this week? "I stopped thinking," Kaymer told those golf reporters on Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes, about this and this, that every shot I made I reflected on it, what I did wrong, what I did right."

Kaymer needed every one of Thursday's nine strokes under par on Sunday, when he perhaps started thinking again and nearly collapsed, but held on to defeat Jim Furyk, runner-up for the second straight week, by one stroke.

In fairness, Kaymer was given plenty of time to think, as lightning forced a 90-minute delay with five holes to play, when he was leading by three. He doubled No. 15 to see his lead shrink to one stroke and, while he parred out to win, it was anything but easy. The key shot was a 30-footer for par on the famed island hole, the 17th.

Kaymer is now one of only four golfers to capture a major, a WGC event and The Players, joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott. With the win, Kaymer soared to 28th in the world rankings, his highest position in more than a year.

MONDAY BACKSWING

Jordan Spieth

For the third time this year, the 20-year-old Spieth began the final round with at least a share of the lead, tied with Kaymer, and he again came up empty, closing with a 74 to share fourth place. It also happened at the Tournament of Champions in January and at the Masters, showing how tough it is to win on the PGA Tour, even for phenoms.

Gary Woodland

Woodland has finished in the top 25 in five of his last six events (and in the other, the Masters, he was 26th). At The Players, he tied for eighth but shot even par on Sunday when others were going low. He's been in position to make noise on a number of recent Sundays but was been largely quiet, putting a different slant on his run of top-25s.

Steve Stricker

Stricker has played in only five events this season and, while he's made every cut, he hasn't really been in the conversation at any of the tournaments. He wasn't this week, either, but with his T13 at TPC Sawgrass, Stricker turned in his best showing to date. Maybe he just needed more reps. We'll learn more next month in the U.S. Open.

Adam Scott

With a chance to take over the top ranking with nothing worse than a tie for 16th, Scott finished worse than tied for 16th. Scott opened 14 strokes worse than Kaymer on Thursday, with a 77, and just making the cut was an accomplishment. Still, the newly married Scott will ascend to No. 1 later this month without even setting foot on the course. Three others had a chance to usurp Woods this week, but likewise, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar didn't come close.

Will MacKenzie

We wrote in this space last week that it was time to move MacKenzie while you still could. He missed his fourth straight cut this week. Maybe you could tell a sucker in your league, er, a trade partner that MacKenzie is still 17th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Phil Mickelson

At the beginning of 2014, the talk was that Mickelson was gearing his year around the U.S. Open, attempting to complete the career grand slam. His owners better hope that's truly the case, because there's nothing else to hang your hat on with Mickelson. He missed the cut this week, just this third MC in 12 starts, but it continues a very un-Mickelson-like season. He's 85th in the point standings. So do you still feel Mickelson will be in the mix at Pinehurst No. 2 come Father's Day? If not, find someone who does.

Webb Simpson

Simpson is 12th in the FedEx Cup chase, but his numbers have definitely been front-loaded, with five top 10s in his first six outings. In his last seven stroke-play events, Simpson has missed three cuts - including the Masters and The Players - with a showing no better than T38. And just wait until they take away his putter in two years.

Harris English

By no means is he in the same situation as MacKenzie, and not he's slumping to the extent that Simpson is, but English bears watching. He's had a fantastic season, at seventh in the point standings, but he's missed two of his past three cuts - at the Masters and The Players. He has a win and six top 10s, though none of those in the past three months. Just someone to keep an eye on.

Patrick Reed

Another week, another weekend off. The former self-proclaimed top-5 player actually finished in the bottom five this week after a 74-79 trunk slam (bottom two, if we really want to be meanies). That's three MCs in five starts since winning at Doral, with a T48 and a T52 sprinkled in for cab fare.