Desert star Martin Kaymer too hot for Rory McIlroy
The most prominent head cover in Martin Kaymer's golf bag is a pale, white tiger -- but the quality of the German's play and that steely cold look in his eye, especially on Sunday afternoon at tournaments, are just like the real thing.
So, it came as absolutely no surprise yesterday when Kaymer held off Rory McIlroy and completed his third win in four years at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a ruthlessly cool and efficient final round of 66.
And how appropriate that Kaymer's record-breaking romp to a fourth victory in eight European Tour events since last August's US PGA, should lift the 26-year-old ahead of Tiger Woods into second place on the world ladder.
It's the first time two Europeans have sat atop the global rankings since July 1993, when Nick Faldo and Kaymer's boyhood idol Bernhard Langer were on top of the world.
Of course, Lee Westwood is current World No 1, but, with respect to the wonderfully consistent Englishman, it seems only a matter of time before Kaymer, by far the most imposing and accomplished under-30 on the planet, edges past him.
There was plenty for Ireland to cheer in Abu Dhabi. McIlroy, who finished in second, was just one of three Ulstermen in the top-five. Graeme McDowell went into a well-earned four-week break in a tie for third with hard-charging Retief Goosen (64), while Gareth Maybin (69) pocketed €77,647 in fifth with David Lynn (72).
McDowell's final round 67 earned him €112,960 and copper-fastened outright fourth in the world, a ranking he'd shared with Phil Mickelson last week.
Mickelson, now sixth just behind Steve Stricker in the global charts after a tepid tie for 37th on his Middle Eastern debut, correctly pointed out yesterday that greatness in golf is not measured in world ranking points, but by one's performance at the Majors.
Yet Europe's domination of the world game at the moment, with no fewer than seven players in the current world top 12, will chafe with those who promote the US Tour, by far the biggest and wealthiest of the world's professional circuits.
Thus, as Tiger makes his 2011 debut in this week's Farmer's Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the setting for his greatest ever victory at the 2008 US Open and a venue where he appears as invincible as Kaymer does in Abu Dhabi, he'll be playing as much for the prestige of American golf as his own.
As cool as he is on the course, Kaymer is sublimely level-headed off it too. He remained modest in his moment of triumph yesterday and understated about his eclipse of the Tiger in the world standings.
"It is quite nice to overtake somebody you regard as the best player that has ever lived," said Kaymer. "We'll see how long it takes for Tiger to overtake me again, but it makes me very proud to be in front of him for a little bit.
"For Lee and me, I think it's a very nice position to be in, while you can also see how strong European golf has become in the last few years and not only through the Ryder Cup.
"Graeme McDowell almost every week gave himself a chance to win at tournaments, while it's only a matter of time before Rory McIlroy wins a big, big tournament somewhere. He'll win plenty of Majors. It's just nice to see European golf getting better and better."
At the finish, Abu Dhabi's defending champion led McIlroy by eight strokes, the largest winning margin on the European Tour since Damien McGrane won by nine at the 2008 Volvo China Open.
Kaymer's closing 66 was his 12th consecutive sub-par round on this course, while he's 80-under for his last 16 rounds here stretching back to the 2008 Championship. His 72-hole score of 24-under for this year's tournament was three better than the record he set in 2008 and which was equalled by Paul Casey in 2009.
And the €334,398 cheque he collected for his ninth victory in only 100 Tour appearance establishes him as the quickest man to amass €10m in prizemoney in Europe -- Sergio Garcia broke through that threshold in his 111th Tour event in 1997.
Kaymer was most chuffed, however, at making just one bogey, following a shank at the par four third last Thursday, in 72 holes. It's the first time in his career he'd played three rounds without dropping a shot, a feat he attributed to his serene comfort on the golf course and an uncannily successful week with his putter.
"He just kills us in Abu Dhabi," said Goosen.
McIlroy, up to seventh in the world and €222,932 richer after his closing 69, started the final round five behind. After falling two shots further back following an untidy bogey to a birdie by the German at the third, he knew Kaymer could not be caught.
"After the first few holes I was just trying to consolidate second place. Martin played so well this week, I don't think there's anyone in the world who could've topped him here," said McIlroy. "I'm very happy with how I performed in my first event of the year."
Damien McGrane finished 70th (worth €3,657) on six-over and last of those who made the cut after a final round of 76.
- Karl MacGinty