x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Kaymer's magic moment

The old adage of fortune favouring the brave is illustrated in Martin Kaymer's approach to the 18th green which earns him the Abu Dhabi Championship.

Martin Kaymer tees off on the ninth on his way to victory yesterday.
Martin Kaymer tees off on the ninth on his way to victory yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Fortune tends to favour the brave in most sporting contests but rarely has that old adage been better illustrated than by the manner in which Martin Kaymer approached the defining moment of what has been a gripping Abu Dhabi Championship. The German, champion in much more routine fashion two years ago, had marched purposefully off the penultimate green of the four-day tournament elated that he had holed a crucial 12-footer to keep himself level with Ian Poulter with only the 18th to play.

Standing level at 20 under par with his English opponent and a precious one stroke clear of the brilliant young Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, Kaymer watched from a perfect position in the middle of the fairway as Poulter was obliged to take the safe option of laying up wedge distance away from the 557-yard closing hole. That made it decision time: do the same and take your chance in the ensuing putting contest, or go all out for glory by hitting the sprawling green in two and setting up a decisive eagle opportunity.

Kaymer did not give it a second thought. He went for it - and how. He boomed his three wood 275 yards unerringly towards its intended destination and immediately realised he had one hand back on the Falcon Trophy. The eagle would have been a fitting bonus to snare that Falcon but realistically the guaranteed birdie was going to clinch his fifth European Tour title, providing Poulter did not make his putt from 20 feet to secure a play-off.

Poulter, who had performed brilliantly on a wonderfully entertaining afternoon of fluctuating fortunes was, sadly, not up to it, leaving Kaymer, who had lagged up to about 18 inches, with a tiddler to secure the ?250,000 (Dh1.29million) first prize which will do wonders for his Ryder Cup and Race to Dubai ambitions. Only once was Kaymer headed as he sought to convert his single-shot overnight lead over his playing partners into another UAE triumph. That was on the 12th green when Poulter, who had birdied from a fairway bunker on the 11th, holed again from 12 feet to get to 20 under par.

With six holes to play it seemed Poulter would improve that position by a least a couple more shots but he could not conjure up a seventh birdie on the way, Kaymer having pegged him back to level again by rolling in an outrageous 35-footer at the 14th on which he had driven into the rough. Poulter will justifiably look back and conclude that the golf gods favoured Kaymer more than himself in determining the fifth outcome of this high-class opening leg of the popular Desert Swing.

The flamboyant Englishman, whose appearance and behaviour have toned down as he has matured into a 30-something, produced what was noticeably the most impressive golf of the leading trio on the outward nine. It was an injustice that his exceptional play was not rewarded by the lead going round the turn. He hit eight of the first nine greens in regulation as Kaymer managed only five successes but the German's tenacious scrambling saw him hang on to his slight advantage turning for home.

The two had shaken McIlroy off their coat tails by then, the youngster finding the pace of his colleagues out of the starting blocks too hot to handle. Poulter opened with three birdies and Kaymer with two to leave McIlroy, who had birdied the long second, two in arrears. A bogey at the fifth - the only dropped shot among the three of them on a nerve-wracking concluding day - made it three and that became four when the joint leaders made threes at the sixth.

To have fought back so strongly to be in a situation where an eagle at the last could have won it for him speaks volumes for the character of McIlroy, who will again take some stopping when he defends his Dubai Desert Classic title the week after next. None of yesterday's supporting cast threatened to steal the limelight from the top triumvirate. Shane Lowry, the Republic of Ireland rookie, eventually claimed the honour of fourth place with a five-under par 67.