Martin Kaymer, who has been more or less missing in action since sinking the winning Ryder Cup putt in 2012, blasted his way to the top of the field by firing a course-record-tying 63 at TPC Sawgrass.
That is not an easy number to post, but it’s particularly hard at a Pete Dye golf course with an island green guarded by an alligator. Martin Kaymer’s secret was that he stopped thinking. That drew a laugh. He also stopped trying to play perfect golf.
“I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes, about this and that, every shot I made, I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right,” he explained about his behavior the last two seasons. “I trust myself a lot more, and I stopped my thinking. The bottom line is I think less.”
However, he did admit that the softer greens made the scoring easier.
“If you hit some fairways, then you can go for some flags,” he said. The rough, he added was a problem. “The Bermudagrass, from the rough, it’s very difficult to judge the distances.”
The reason his golf got lost for a while was that he was being pulled in other directions.
“I was distracted by too much what was going on off the golf course, being No. 1 in the world, and all those things,” he added. “The second year, I was working very, very hard to get back.”
Because Whistling Straits, where Kaymer won the PGA Championship, and TPC Sawgrass, home to The Players, are both Pete Dye designs, there are strategic similarities.
“They’re both really beautiful golf courses,” he said, “and it’s about ball-striking. It’s not really a putting competition. I enjoy a golf course where you have to play well, where you need to hit fades and draws from the tee, where it’s not boring.”
No one has ever called TPC Sawgrass boring. Horrible. Nasty. Even Bubba Watson said it was mean. But definitely not boring.
“When you play well, you get rewarded. It’s not just about hitting it 350 yards and just chip it out and try to make birdie that way,” Kaymer explained about the golf course that raised eyebrows and hackles of Tour players when it first opened in 1982.
The last three holes in particular captured Kaymer’s attention.
“You need to hit brave shots. Even if you screw up once in a while, it’s OK,” he said. “At least you play brave, and that’s good playing and that’s not playing like a wimp.”
Does he compare himself to countryman Bernhard Langer? No. Bernhard has accomplished too much and is still winning.
“To compare yourself with him, it would be too much thinking again.”
Kaymer hit 85 percent of the fairways and 94 percent of the greens. He had just 27 putts, and his longest one was seven feet. Starting on the 10th hole, he birdied the 11th and 15th before making the turn and making birdie at the first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth for a back-nine 29.
“No one shot a 29 on that golf course before, and I did it today, so it’s nice,” he added.
According to Jim Furyk, who played at about the same time as Kaymer, there was about a 10 to 15 mph wind, which was not a factor in afternoon play.
The score of 63 at TPC Sawgrass was first reached by Fred Couples in the third round of The Players tournament in what could generously be described as sweater weather in March 1992. Couples did not win the tournament that year, but he went on to win the Masters. The 63 was matched in 1994 by Greg Norman at The Players in the first round, which was delayed by chilly fog. Norman won that week, setting a tournament record of 24-under. Both players were still using old equipment and balata balls.
For more than 20 years, the low-round total went unmatched until Roberto Castro shot a 63 last year in sunny conditions with a temperature of 81, using today’s equipment. Tiger Woods won in 2013.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.