THERE was a time when it seemed Tiger Woods would never be deposed as the world’s number one golfer.
Then came an early morning car crash last November which set in train an incredible series of events which shattered the air of invincibility which surrounded the sport’s most recognisable figure.
As Woods fought his demons the race was on to take his throne.
Phil Mickelson was considered the heir apparent but failed to deliver when opportunities came his way while injury has halted Lee Westwood’s challenge for the moment.
And that’s why 25-year-old German Martin Kaymer is the focus of attention this week, as he will become the game’s number one should he finish first or second in the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama.
Woods has been top of the pile for the past 281 weeks and for 623 weeks in his career. The others to reach number one are Greg Norman (331 weeks), Nick Faldo (97), Seve Ballesteros (61), Ian Woosnam (50), Nick Price (44), Vijay Singh (32), Fred Couples (16), David Duval (15), Ernie Els (9), Bernhard Langer (3) and Tom Lehman (1).
Though Bernhard Langer won two Masters green jackets and tournaments worldwide, he was never recognised as a superstar in his native country simply because golf didn’t figure very high with the German public.
And according to Henning Feindt, golf correspondent with BILD, the biggest selling newspaper in Germany, the populace are slowly learning to appreciate what Kaymer has achieved.
“At the beginning of the year, nobody had heard of him”, says Feindt. “But after the US PGA and then, even more, the Ryder Cup, we began to take an interest in him. Normally, we don’t write about golf in our paper, it’s all soccer and Formula One. But with Kaymer, it’s like a star has risen, a new sports hero for German. We call him Golf Giante – golf giant”
After the PGA, the paper published a picture of Kaymer with his American girlfriend Alison Micheletti on the front page, he was featured on Sports Illustrated and was invited to open the NASDAQ stock market.
At last, his fame was being recognised in Germany with Florian Bruhns, CEO of Germany’s 2018 Ryder Cup bid, enthusing that Kaymer’s victory in the US PGA was “like winning the lottery for German golf. We have a new hero.”
Kaymer’s rise to number three in the world should not come as a surprise given the form he has shown in the last two seasons. He was leader of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai order of merit in August 2009 when he broke three bones in his foot in a go-karting accident in Phoenix, Arizona. The injury kept him out of action for two months.
He recalled: “The guy behind me pushed me at full power into the guy in front. My foot was flipped back and I can’t remember much because the pain was intense. My big toe was bent under the others so they had to re-break it!”
The incident cost Kaymer his chance of the order of merit and that’s why he is so keen to make amends this year.
He has €3.1 to his credit, a million ahead of Graeme McDowell, who is also in this week’s field at Valderrama.
But the world number one spot must be lurking large in the background for Kaymer who insists he doesn’t conform to German stereotypes.
“I’m a pretty normal guy. Most people in the world think Germans are boring. I don’t think I’m boring but I’m not like a crazy guy. I’m how you see me on the golf course.
“After winning the US PGA, I celebrated with friends late that night in a McDonalds somewhere between Whistling Straits and Chicago airport which was perfect.”
The Molinaris, McDowell, MA Jimenez, Ross Fisher and Peter Hanson are the seven members of Europe’s successful Ryder Cup team in the Valderrama field. Paul McGinley, Shane Lowry, Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Michael Hoey and Gareth Maybin are also in action this weekend.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved