Belfast Telegraph

Friday 30 January 2015

Kaymer happy to play gooseberry as Woods and McIlroy star in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 17: Martin Kaymer of Germany on the 14th tee during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 17, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Martin Kaymer gets to play gooseberry for the next two days alongside golf's hottest two-ball. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are inevitably grouped together in the opening two rounds of the HSBC Champions tournament in Abu Dhabi. Kaymer, a winner here three times, is the privileged third party handed the best seat in the house.

A major winner and former world No 1 himself, the man who sank the putt that won the Ryder Cup for Europe last year recognises the appeal of the Rory and Tiger show and accepted with good grace his minor billing.

"It's always nice to play with them," Kaymer said today. "It is only right that they get the attention. They are both great players and deserve to be in the spotlight. Obviously, I get along with Rory and I get along with Tiger. So it will be a lot more people out there tomorrow, but that's fine. It doesn't matter to me if there are a few or a lot. It's just golf, the same."

In this setting, far removed from the centre of his universe, Woods appears at his most relaxed. He greeted reporters by their given names and allowed them to walk and talk as he passed from the range to the putting green. There was even a spot of banter with Colin Montgomerie, a word of consolation perhaps after Monty's failure to impress the judges in the Ryder Cup talent show.

Despite McIlroy's elevation to the Nike throne and his growing influence in the game, the Woods aura has a magic all its own. Three PGA victories last year and a consistent leader board presence have heightened anticipation of him making a return to full power. He claims to be in his best shape since 2007 after a six-week break and hopes that a fast start to the season will lead significant plunder this year as he chases that elusive 15th major.

The grooming of McIlroy as golf's next big thing is neither here nor there, he claims. The look in his eyes compels you to believe him.

"The whole idea is to get better. If I get better then I'm going to win tournaments. I just need to continue focusing on what I can do," Woods said. "I can't control what any other player does. All I can worry about is getting more efficient. That's what I've tried to do over the years and it's been successful."

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