Martin Kaymer, a European Tour former No 1 and one of the heroes from last year's Ryder Cup, will take aim at a fourth win at the National Course when the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship starts Thursday.
Abu Dhabi remains a happy hunting ground for Martin Kaymer
ABU DHABI // By most golfing measures, be it yards or metres, Rory McIlroy has been unusually successful in his visits to the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
He has twice finished second, was third in another start and has not been worse than 11th over the past five years. Yet the world No 1 has sensed a consistent theme over most of that span, a persistent reason why he has not sealed the deal.
A prime suspect has been identified.
"It's a place where I have done well," the 23-year-old Northern Irishman said. "But I think one problem for me the last few years has been Martin Kaymer."
McIlroy is hardly alone.
The man from Dusseldorf's unofficial nickname in European Tour circles is the Germanator, but the former No 1 has left town with so much UAE cash in his suitcase, they should call him the Culprit.
As a measure of his success and celebrity hereabouts, look no further than the pairing sheet for Thursday's first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where Kaymer will be alongside McIlroy and Tiger Woods in the featured trio.
They might be bigger names and ranked Nos 1 and 2 in the game, but Kaymer has three victories and a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi, one of the strongest events on the European Tour. Put another way, in his global career, Kaymer has displayed more staying power in desert climes than most dromedaries.
"For me, it is a calming place," he said. "There is no stress. I like the desert."
He eats it like dessert.
Abu Dhabi might be just the tonic for Kaymer, who is coming off his most unproductive year since his rookie season, while undergoing a swing overhaul. He recorded his first European Tour win here in 2008, four days into his second season on tour. He would become a frequent visitor to the prize-giving ceremony.
From 2008 to 2011, he won at least twice in European Tour play every year, a run that ended last season, when he managed two top-five finishes otherwise. There was, however, a certain moment in Chicago last autumn for which he shall forever be remembered that made the rest of the season forgettable.
"Something career-changing happened," he said.
Delivering the coup de grace, Kaymer was the spotlighted hero as Europe mounted the most spectacular Sunday comeback in Ryder Cup history. Leading his match on the 18th, he needed a two-putt par to secure the Ryder Cup, but he rolled a downhill lag putt five feet past the hole, prompting everyone to weigh the suffocating magnitude of the moment.
Under incredible duress, if Kaymer converted the par putt, Europe would clinch the trophy for the seventh time in nine tries. And if he missed, none other than Woods was standing in the 18th fairway, leading in his match, facing a chance to win the trophy for the Yanks.
"I knew everything," he said.
Saviour if he makes it, sap if he doesn't.
"A big idiot," he said with a laugh.
Teammate Justin Rose was watching from the fairway with Ian Poulter, teeth clenched, well aware that the incredible climb might fall short if Kaymer three-putted. In the States, NBC Sports showed a replay of the deciding miss on the last hole of the 1991 Ryder at Kiawah by Kaymer's German compatriot, Bernhard Langer, which ensured a win for the US. The scenarios were seriously similar; Kaymer's miss, too, would not be forgotten.
"We were at the finish line and it was about to be this amazing comeback," Rose recalled yesterday. "And it was just a sense of, it's going to be close, but heartbreak at the end."
The tension was excruciating, but Kaymer steered it home and teammates mobbed him for several delirious minutes. It already has become one of the Ryder's defining moments.
"Because of what a sensational comeback it was, to have fallen at the last hurdle would have probably been soul-destroying," Rose said.
We will never know.
Kaymer still gets philosophical when describing the magnitude of the moment and how much he relished it.
"It never crossed my mind that I would miss the putt," he said, with no trace of arrogance.
"There was no choice. I have to make it. So there was no doubt."
It was career-affirming. After his most forgettable season, his game began to turn. He recorded three finishes of 11th or better and topped a 12-man field at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, climbing to 28th in the world ranking, showing signs of his old form.
Returning to the desert cannot hurt. Kaymer's ascent to No 1 came after he finished second in the 2011 Accenture Match Play Championship in the cactus-strewn Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, near where he maintains his US base. In the 2008-2011 run wherein he mustered three wins and a second in Abu Dhabi, he finished a staggering 80 under par, overall, at the National Course.
Two years ago here, five months removed from his major victory at the US PGA Championship, Kaymer finished eight shots ahead of the runner-up McIlroy and annihilated the tournament record by finishing 24 under. Thirty-three days later, he climbed to world No 1.
His game revamped, he has the skill set to do it again. "I'm ready to compete against the best," he said."The journey is the fun part."
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