Martin Kaymer: a big game hunter
Since the dawning of the millennium, 22 golfers have joined the exclusive club of major champions. Curiously, only four of them - Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington - have followed their initial breakthrough with another victory in one of golf's four main tournaments.
The latest entrant to the club is Germany's Martin Kaymer following his victory in a three-hole play-off against the American Bubba Watson in last year's US PGA Championship.
Kaymer is 26, and - barring the type of freak go-kart injury which seriously interrupted his 2009 campaign - has many potentially productive seasons ahead of him. He is determined to follow the path of Harrington - who has three majors to his credit - rather than be remembered in the same way as the brief sensations Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton.
Kaymer begins his 2011 season as defending champion at the Abu Dhabi Championship, which starts on Thursday. He is hoping to enhance his record on the National Course - two wins and a second place - as part of his aim to build on last year.
Another major title is also high on Kaymer's list of priorities. He is yearning for the same success that came the way of his Ryder Cup teammate Harrington after the Irishman's own major breakthrough. Harrington followed his victory at the 2007 British Open with two more majors in 2008.
"I think winning one major gives you the confidence and belief to get you over the line at the next one," Kaymer said. "So as long as I keep putting myself in position to win I hope I will win more. I would love to win The Open Championship - the only major we have in Europe - that would be amazing."
He rates his PGA title ahead of his Race to Dubai victory.
"I think winning my first major is maybe slightly more special and also it came first," he said. "I might not have finished No 1 in Europe without winning the PGA.
"Now I want to win more majors and finish European No 1 more times, so I guess I am greedy but I have gained a lot of confidence from all I have achieved in the last year."
Kaymer had to withstand a late challenge from one of last year's other first-time major champions, Graeme McDowell, to claim the cherished European No 1 spot.
McDowell, unlike Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who joined the elite club through his runaway British Open victory at St Andrews in July, has prospered since his US Open success at Pebble Beach.
The Northern Irishman went on to be a pivotal figure in Europe's Ryder Cup victory over the United States and is making similar noises to Kaymer going into what promises to be a high-quality Abu Dhabi tournament.
"I've been quietly going about my business the last five or six years, gaining some great experience around the world and putting my game to the test and learning from mistakes that I've made," McDowell said during his recent visit to the UAE as an ambassador for the Emirates Airline Invitational, a pro-am event which takes place at Yas Links Golf Club on Monday.
"I suppose I arrived as one of the world's leading players in 2010 and I want to capitalise on that," said McDowell, who finished the year as fifth in the world, two places below Kaymer.
"I feel like a pretty experienced player now, although my game still has lots of room for improvement, but I feel like I'm getting better all the time. I certainly wouldn't have expected 2010 to go the way it has. To have two huge highlights like Pebble Beach and Ryder Cup, has been amazing and I want more of that kind of highlight."
McDowell and Kaymer both have their sights set on the world No 1 status recently claimed by England's Lee Westwood.
Kaymer raised his career haul of titles to 16 last year and he holds the view that to continue contending at the most important tournaments is a recipe for rankings improvement.
Having come within a couple of good rounds late last year of toppling Westwood from his perch, Kaymer intends to step up his challenge in the forthcoming Desert Swing which moves from Abu Dhabi to Bahrain, Qatar and then Dubai.
Kaymer said he has a soft spot for the UAE and particularly its capital after enjoying so much success here.
"It was amazing to win a tournament with the stature of Abu Dhabi as my maiden European Tour title," he said. "I did not expect to win so quickly although I came close a couple of times in my rookie year of 2007."
He described his repeat victory last year as "fantastic". He reflected on the clinching birdie at the daunting last hole of the National Course: "Four great days of golf and a final day going up against a quality leaderboard including Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter.
"Just managing to come out just one shot ahead of Ian in the end made it a superb finish to the tournament, and of course I was not as nervous as I was when I won in 2008 having to get my first victory over the line.
"I just enjoyed every minute of winning last year. We were all playing some great golf and really going for it - I was much more defensive when I won in 2008. My final round 66 was really great."
Kaymer said he was lulled into a false sense of luxurious security by his first taste of Abu Dhabi hospitality.
"I was hoping all the tournaments would be the same high quality and we would be royally looked after in hotels like we are in the Emirates Palace," he said. "But I soon learned the players are very spoiled in Abu Dhabi by all the wonderful facilities.
"There aren't many tournaments that match up to it so it is a very nice way to start the year off and one I always look forward to."
Although Kaymer did not threaten to win the season-ending Dubai World Championship in November, he will also have that emirate high on his list of favourite ports of call. "I was very happy to win there and it was definitely a goal," he said, referring to his safe finishing job on the second running of the Race to Dubai.
His go-karting injuries, three broken bones in his toes, hurt his Dubai chances in 2009.
"I came close the previous year but having a couple of months off after my go-karting injury didn't help and I finished third.
"It was definitely a goal to be No 1 in Europe and I am so glad to have achieved it already. Now my goal is to win it again in 2011."
Continued success on the biggest stages around the world is a Kaymer's formula for fulfilling another of his main career plans and retaining his Ryder Cup place for the visit to Medinah, Illinois, next year and other future clashes with the Americans.
"It was fantastic to be part of the European team for the first time," said Kaymer, who struggled to find his best form in the unfamiliar environment of team golf.
"I felt I learned a lot from my debut appearance which will stand me in good stead in the future when I will hopefully represent Europe again."
Like the rest of the European team, Kaymer, a native of Dusseldorf who spends much of his winter in the America state of Arizona, has respect for US opponents and is comfortable in their company. But he emphasised that his main commitment remains participating on the European Tour.
He believes his home fixture list now provides a comparable level of competition to the previously superior US PGA Tour. "You only need to look at the result of the Ryder Cup to see how level we are and I think the strength and depth of the European Tour has really developed in recent years," he said.
"Also you see the US players coming over to play on the European Tour. We will be seeing Phil Mickelson play in Abu Dhabi for the first time so it shows that they enjoy the opportunity of competing on the European Tour in the same way as we enjoy competing in their events."
Upcoming UAE golf tournaments
Abu Dhabi Championship
Where: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, National course.
Prize money: US$2.7 million (Dh9.9m).
The field: all four reigning champions of golf’s major tournaments – Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Phil Mickelson and Martin Kaymer – will play.
Tickets: www.abudhabihsbcgolfchampionship.com, 800-4669.
Dubai Desert Classic
Where: Emirates Golf Club, Majlis Course.
When: February 10-13.
Prize money: US$2.5m.
The field: includes world No 1 Lee Westwood and the man he replaced in the top ranking, Tiger Woods.
Published: January 15, 2011 04:00 AM