Sunday's final round of the 2014 Players Championship at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida's TPC Sawgrass is bound to be epic, with a ton of juicy storylines to follow near the top of the leaderboard.
Former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer has rebuilt his swing and is finally reaping the rewards of that hard work, but 20-year-old prodigy Jordan Spieth has yet to bogey through 54 holes. Those two premier talents are tied at the top at 12-under overall entering the final round.
Spieth alluded to how favorable the American gallery was toward him during Round 3, per Alex Myers of Golf Digest:
Kaymer and Spieth each said it felt like a Ryder Cup out there. "Everyone was respectful, but they were definitely partial," Spieth said.— Alex Myers (@AlexMyers3) May 10, 2014
Although past Players champion Sergio Garcia hasn't won a major, he could be in line to win this event for the second time, sitting just three strokes off the pace along with ball-striking extraordinaire John Senden.
Gary Woodland is healthy and put together a magnificent 30 on the front nine of Augusta National on Masters Saturday, so he has the explosiveness to be a threat at eight-under entering the last 18 holes. Another fantastic player never to have triumphed at golf's four biggest tournaments is Lee Westwood, who needs something sensational on Sunday to capture the crystal trophy.
Be sure to stay up to date with leaderboard updates throughout Sunday's action at the Stadium Course, and read on for some final-round predictions for how the Players will unfold.
Note: Statistics and video are courtesy of PGATour.com.
Players Championship Final Round Predictions
Brandt Snedeker Vaults Into Contention
The putter is behaving again for Snedeker, which is the foundation that sparks the rest of his game. That is true for a lot of players, but few in the world can claim to be a better or more consistent putter than Snedeker when he's on.
Unfortunately, the veteran and past FedEx Cup champion has struggled with the flat iron in 2013-14, ranking 93rd entering the week in strokes gained putting after placing no lower than 20th since 2009.
That pop stroke has gained new life over the past 36 holes, though, as Snedeker recovered from an opening 75 to post rounds of 69 and 67, capitalizing on moving day to get back to five-under and seven shots off the pace. Here's living proof of his form on the greens, courtesy of a 40-foot bomb on the par-five 16th for his final birdie in the third round:
Neither Kaymer nor Spieth failed to distance himself from the rest of the field more than they had on Saturday, so it stands to reason that the winning score won't be better than 14-under. While it would take a course record-tying effort from Snedeker to match that number, he is fully capable of getting it done if he hits enough greens.
With the experience of thriving on big stages in the past, Snedeker can draw on that to rally his way to a top-five finish at worst.
Sergio Garcia's Rally Falls Short
Make no mistake—the Spaniard is among the elite players on the planet and has his short game working as well as it ever has. However, he does have some serious demons to exorcize.
A select list of golfers have won the Players more than once, and for good reason. Garcia had a chance to do so again in 2013, going head-to-head with embittered rival Tiger Woods down the stretch before unraveling with a quadruple bogey seven at the par-three 17th:
Jason Sobel of Golf Channel alluded to the debacle in poking a bit of fun during the opening round of this year's event:
Sergio Garcia safely aboard the 17th green. File this under: Things That Would Have Come in Handy Last Year.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) May 8, 2014
Credit the former prodigy in Garcia for bouncing back and ascending to a tie for second to this point. He seems to be in a much better frame of mind and doesn't have the added burden of Woods being in the field. Woods' presence isn't as imposing as it used to be for most golfers, but given their history, it helps Garcia to not have to deal with that this week.
Unfortunately, the final round won't be kind to Garcia in 2014 either, because he will be unable to seal the deal at the end once again. That isn't going to be any fault of his own—expect him to card something in the high 60s.
Pressure putts won't fall amid The Gauntlet, and Kaymer will do just enough down the stretch to secure the victory.
Winner: Martin Kaymer
Well, that previous sentence kind of spoiled things. It would be a delight to see Spieth stride down the final fairway with a win in hand. Heck, it might be the best thing for the game of golf, starving for a consistent, charismatic superstar who can win on a regular basis.
This will be another learning experience for Spieth, though, as Kaymer has put in a ton of work and persevered through adversity to get to this point. Having topped the world rankings before and won a major at the 2010 PGA Championship, Kaymer has the pedigree to close out the 2014 Players Championship.
ESPN's Justin Ray highlighted the trials and tribulations the German star has endured:
Since Martin Kaymer became world no. 1, he's made 39 stateside stroke play @PGATOUR starts. 0 wins, 2 top-10s, 0 outright leads until today.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) May 8, 2014
Kaymer is perhaps the least remembered top-ranked player in recent history, but now he has a chance to put himself back on the map. He fired a 63 in the opening round and has not made any critical errors, proving the adjustments to his swing can hold up under severe pressure.
Make no mistake—Spieth is bound to give Kaymer a run for his money and that ridiculous $1.8 million check that goes to the victor. Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman is extremely impressed with how well Spieth has handled himself in his Players debut:
The fact that Jordan Spieth is still bogey free tells me a lot about his nerves right now.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) May 10, 2014
This clutch par save at the 18th was what allowed Spieth to enter the last round tied for the lead:
But Kaymer has won 10 times on the European Tour in his career (counting the 2010 PGA) and sank the winning putt at the 2012 Ryder Cup, while Spieth has won just the John Deere Classic thus far. Those resumes are not even comparable, despite how strong Spieth has been to rise into the top 10 in the world.
Who do you think will win the 2014 Players Championship?
Let's be honest, is it realistic to expect Spieth to not have at least one hiccup in the final round and go the entire tournament bogey-free? Doubting him in the past has been ineffective, but Spieth has to prove himself with more wins before he can be trusted to triumph over a decorated veteran like Kaymer.
This outcome won't be the overwhelming desire of the TPC Sawgrass galleries, yet Kaymer may pick up some new fans with a win Sunday. One of the classiest players on tour, he has traveled through quite a valley after it looked as though he'd be the game's next surefire superstar in his mid-20s.
Now that Kaymer has regained confidence, he should be considered a big threat at the remaining three majors and a potential candidate to reascend to No. 1 within a year or so. He is just that talented, and has proven his knack for winning with his numerous triumphs early in his career. That will only help grow the respect for Spieth after he battles Kaymer head-to-head, hardening the youngster for the future greatness he's expected to achieve.