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    • Kaymer's journey comes full circle at THE PLAYERS

      Hard work and belief prompted Martin Kaymer to earn a dramatic victory at TPC Sawgrass

    • Martin Kaymer and caddie Craig Connelly celebrate on the 18th hole after Kaymer drained the winning putt. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)Martin Kaymer and caddie Craig Connelly celebrate on the 18th hole after Kaymer drained the winning putt. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    MORE: Leaderboard | Watch: Kaymer's putt on 17 | Kaymer's bag | TOUR Report | Stats | Photo gallery

    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- What does it take to play the kind of golf to be a major champion at age 26, become the second-youngest player to reach No. 1 in the world and now, three years later, winner of the PGA TOUR’s flagship event, THE PLAYERS Championship?

    In Martin Kaymer’s case, blood.

    “Extremely hard,” Kaymer’s caddie Craig Connelly said when asked how hard his boss worked to get to where he was standing Sunday night. “His hands can bleed. He’s always on the range when he’s away from tournament play. The calluses can open up.

    “You don’t get to No. 1 in the world for no reason, and I think he appreciates the good things a little more now. He’s a brand new Martin. He’s obviously a much-improved golfer, but the mindset is the old Martin.”

    Kaymer is also a winner again, ending a two-year drought after a wild 1-under 71 at TPC Sawgrass, where he held on for a one-shot victory over Jim Furyk.

    “The belief is always there,” said Kaymer, who, after reaching the top of the Official World Golf Ranking in early 2011, held onto that position for just eight weeks before eventually plummeting outside the top 60. “I knew that I could win a golf tournament again.”

    Like the first big victory in his career, he had to sweat this one out as well.

    After a double-bogey 6 on the 15th hole following a lengthy weather delay, Kaymer’s lead went from three strokes to just one.

    Two holes later, he survived another scare when his tee shot to the island green par 3 took an unexpected bounce sideways and nearly spun into the water. Chipping from the other side of the green, his ball stopped 30 feet short before he poured in the lengthy, bending par putt.

    The 18th was far less dramatic for Kaymer, who had just over 3 feet for par. It stirred memories of his winning putt to beat Steve Stricker and clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe at Medinah two years ago. This celebration was different, but no less fulfilling.

    “A lot of satisfaction,” said Kaymer, who ended the week at 13-under 275. “(My caddie and I) worked so hard and we went through up-and-downs the last two years. It's very tough because as an athlete you always want it now, but in golf you just cannot force it.”

    It just took Kaymer a while to figure that out. Success wasn’t as easy as he sometimes made it look, which is a trademark of German engineering. It only goes so far in golf, though.

    Four years ago, Kaymer holed a putt to force a playoff at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits that he would eventually win. Six months later, he was the top-ranked player on the planet.

    “He became everything at age 26,” said Bernhard Langer. “That’s not easily done.”

    Staying there proved even tougher.

    Kaymer tried to change his swing because he could only hit a fade. Soon the results disappeared, too. A feel player by nature, he became too mechanical and lost his way.

    He also struggled with his newfound celebrity status and the demands that go with being a major champion and No. 1 in the world, a position he was admittedly unequipped to handle.

    Before Sunday’s victory, Kaymer hadn’t won anywhere in the word since late 2012 and by then was outside the top 30 and soon the top 40 and 50. He came into this week ranked 61st in the world.

    But his game had started to come around in recent months after spending time with longtime swing coach Gunter Kessler in Phoenix and then again in Germany. He also played a couple of practice rounds with Langer at this year’s Masters. “We’ve had lots of talks,” Langer said. “Most of it was very positive.”

    So, too, was Kaymer’s outlook, even when everything around him seemed to be collapsing -- whether it was Sunday at TPC Sawgrass or during the journey back to being able to beat the deepest field in golf.

    “The mindset was fine,” he said of his near-collapse at THE PLAYERS. “I was not very nervous. I didn't think that I would screw up anything here.”

    The only time Kaymer almost lost his composure and was nearly reduced to tears Sunday was when he talked about his mother, Rina, who died of skin cancer six years ago.

    Stitched into his bag is a sunflower; her favorite flower. His brother, Phillip, also sent him a text that he described as “very emotional.”

    “To win on Mother's Day ... we show our parents way too little,” Kaymer said. “We always need some occasions to show them, which is what you realize when they're not there anymore. So to win on those days, it adds a little bit of a nice thing to the whole week.

    “I think about her every day. I don't need a Mother's Day.”

    Sunday belonged to Kaymer.

    Martin Kaymer wins in dramatic fashion at THE PLAYERS
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      Martin Kaymer wins in dramatic fashion at THE PLAYERS

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