GERMANY’S Martin Kaymer overcame a 90-minute weather delay and a nerve-wracking finish to claim a £1 million payday in near-darkness in the Players Championship on Sunday.
Kaymer became just the fourth European to win golf’s so-called ‘fifth major’ after a final round of 71 to finish 13 under par at Sawgrass, one shot ahead of Jim Furyk.
The former world number one had looked to be cruising to victory when he held a three-shot lead on the 14th hole, only for an approaching thunderstorm to force the players off the course.
Furyk was facing a short par putt on the 18th when play was suspended, the American biting his putter in frustration as thunder sounded overhead.
The former US Open champion duly holed out to complete a superb 66 when play resumed an hour and a half later, and then watched as Kaymer ran up his first double bogey of the week on the 15th after pulling his drive into the trees and fluffing his third shot into a greenside bunker.
After three-putting from the side of the 16th green for par, Kaymer looked certain to drop another shot when his tee shot on the famous par-three 17th caught the bank of a bunker and span back to within inches of the water.
However, the man who holed the putt which ensured Europe retained the Ryder Cup in 2012 produced another brilliant stroke under pressure, holing a curling par attempt from 29 feet to remain one ahead.
A par on the last therefore secured the win and meant Kaymer followed in the footsteps of European winners Sandy Lyle (1987), Sergio Garcia (2008) and Henrik Stenson (2009).
Garcia birdied the last to finish outright third on 11 under with Justin Rose and overnight joint leader Jordan Spieth sharing fourth on 10 under.
Kaymer, who won the US PGA Championship in August 2010 and became world number one for eight weeks the following February, said: “It’s always very difficult to come back after a little break, you see the leaderboard, you see where you are.
“When you are playing the first 14 holes you are in it and just keep going. I played really, really well and you are really disappointed when they called it (off). Obviously there was a reason for it.
“And then you are a little cold and I made a couple of wrong decisions. On 15 you give yourself a chance for par, you don’t be that aggressive and try to go for it. And then on 16 you have to chip it, it was not the right decision but it was a big putt on 17.
“It feels like a major win.”
Many players wore pink to mark Mother’s Day in the United States on Sunday and Kaymer was clearly emotional when asked about his win, given that his mother Rina died from cancer in 2008.
“It’s very special for me,” he added. “I got a very nice text from my brother this morning which was very emotional.”
Kaymer and Spieth began the final round tied for the lead and Spieth briefly moved in front when birdies at the second and fourth extended his run of holes without a bogey to 58.
However, the world number seven then dropped three shots in the next five holes to fall out of contention and Kaymer birdied the ninth and 11th to briefly enjoy a four-shot lead.
Furyk reduced the gap to three with the last of his six birdies of the day on the 16th, before the weather intervened to set up a thrilling finish.