A View from the Top

German Martin Kaymer tees off at The Masters as world's #1 golfer

Phil Mickelson was asked in a TV interview on ESPN who is the best golfer in the world.  He said every politically correct cliché without naming anyone.

Tiger Woods was asked the same question as well.  "When I get my swing dialed in..." he didn't finish, and just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.  It was clear who HE was talking about.

Sure, they can be cocky and not accept not being at the top of the rankings.  They are the biggest names in golf.  Tiger, we know his accomplishments on the course as the world's number #1 for as long as forever, and with 14 major championships and his recent troubles starting with his much publicized off-the-green issues that have crept into his game; and Mikelson has won four majors and reached #2 in the world.  Together, they built the rivalry in golf that every sport needs.

But currently, sitting on top of the world rankings is German Martin Kaymer.  The 26-year-old is from Dusseldorf and is the second German to ever be ranked number one in the world.  Legend and still popular Bernhard Langer was the first ever World Number 1 when the ranking system was introduced in 1986.

"That was my goal when I started playing golf," said Kaymer humbly to TMT Sports.  "But for me, honestly, it doesn't change my life. Yes, I'm maybe a little busier, that's for sure, but besides that, nothing has changed."

Well, if there is a week he will feel his life changing, it's this one.  He will take his top ranking and all the pressures that come with it and try to validate it to the golf world at The Masters, the first major of the year at arguably the most historic of grounds after The Old Course at St. Andrews, the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA.

Kaymer is no stranger to the spotlight.  He has had a steady rise since turning pro in 2005 in the European tour, building a resume with solid finishes that led him into the Top 100 by the end of 2007, earning Top Rookie Golfer honors on the European Tour.  The winning started in 2008 when he won at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.  He went toe-to-toe with Tiger a few weeks later at the Dubai Desert Classic, but finished second by one stroke.  He won the BMW International Open in Munich in 2008 and has been the favorite each year at the tournament held at Eichenreid Golf Club.

Last year was Kaymer's best year.  He started by winning in Abu Dhabi again and played well throughout the year, winning his first major, the PGA Championship last August.  He finished the year winning the Race to Dubai, Europe's overall championship for the year.

Kaymer also represented Europe during the Ryder Cup and was part of the new guard of European golf stars that called out their American counterparts and then beat them.  After a prolonged drought during the Rise of Tiger when European pros won only 2 majors, six of the Top Ten in the world and the last two major winners from last year alone are from Europe (N. Ireland's Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open).

Kaymer (third from left, top) was part of the winning Ryder Cup team in 2010"It's amazing what's going on at the moment and we could be proud of that," exclaimed the co-European Player of the Year of the rebirth.  But are the Europeans now dominating the game?  "I don't think so; both continents are very strong, competitive and have great players."

After Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood from England supplanted Tiger at the top of the rankings at the beginning of this year, Kaymer's continued solid play and runner-up finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships moved him past Westwood to #1 on February 27th.

For now, Kaymer will enjoy his perch at the top, along with other young German sports stars who rule their respective sports, like Maria Riesch in skiing and Sebastian Vettel in Formula 1.  Kaymer feels honored to continue the fine lineage of great German stars, like the Kaiser - Franz Beckenbauer, Boris Becker and Steffi Graf in tennis, Michael Schumacher in F1 and of course Langer.

In the end, rankings and earning do not matter.  Wins do.  Wins in the major championships.  And a win on golf's biggest stage, the 75th edition of The Masters that starts today, and wearing the traditional green jacket given to the winner at the end, will cement a golfer in the storied history of the game.  Both Tiger (4 times) and Phil (3 times) have done it, and won with flair when faced with adversity.  Check out Tiger's chip save on the 16th hole back in 2005.

It took Mickelson a long time to finally break on through and win a major, his first was at Augusta in 2004.  He won again in 2006, and that experience helped him make a miraculous save from behind the trees last year on the 13th hole to on his way to win it a third time.  "There comes a point in the tournament, you have to trust your swing and take the risk," said Mickelson, describing his thoughts on the final day of a major.  "I felt like if I pull this off, I can win the tournament."

Can Kaymer do the same at Augusta, a place where he's never made the cut?  Especially when the whole world is watching if the #1 golfer can come through and validate his ranking?  "I've played three times and I've never made it to the weekend, so my goal is to play on Saturday and Sunday this year," Kaymer wishes.  "It would be cool if I could wear the green jacket one day!"

That day may come sooner than later for Kaymer.


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