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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Martin Kaymer interview: Three-time champion has only fond memories of Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

German has experienced plenty of highs - and a couple of lows - in the UAE capital but they all contribute to making the tournament the highlight of his season. 

Martin Kaymer will be chasing his fourth Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title when he tees off on Thursday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Nezar Balout / AFP
Martin Kaymer will be chasing his fourth Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title when he tees off on Thursday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Nezar Balout / AFP

Ten years on, Martin Kaymer still remembers the feeling.

A decade has passed since that first European Tour victory, a four-shot win in Abu Dhabi in 2008. It was the first of three triumphs in four years in the capital, a period of sustained success at the tournament that helped spark his run to two major titles, to world No 1, to winning Ryder Cups with Europe.

It does help, though, that Kaymer jogs the memory each time he returns to the National Course.

“Every year when I play a practice round I make that putt I had on 18 in 2008,” he says. “The pin was back left and my ball was on the front right. Every year I make that putt. Every year it’s worse than the putt on Sunday in 2008. Maybe it’s because the focus or something.

“But I remember the way I hit it, how I felt. Because to win your first tournament is tough. Then I had the belief that I could win golf tournaments and that was huge. It's nice memories. It was a good learning day for me.”

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It certainly was. Kaymer came back the following year, finished a narrow second to Paul Casey, then notched victories two and three in his next two attempts. In 2011, he blitzed the field to win by eight, still the largest margin of victory in tournament history. To date, he is the event’s only three-time champion.

Little wonder, then, it feels almost like a second home.

“In general, the place has been so, so nice to me,” says Kaymer, as he prepares this week for a fourth tilt at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA. “The people, and the golf course, I enjoy a lot. The people in the locker room, the way they welcome you.

"You’ve pretty much sat at every table in the players’ lounge. You look down on the 10th and 18th hole from the players’ lounge and it’s a good feeling. We all have those places, wherever in the world it is for each individual, where you just feel comfortable. In our sport you have those golf courses where you feel comfortable, and this is one of them.”

Asked if anywhere compares, Kaymer replies: “No, no. I like St Andrew’s as well, but not as strong as here.”

Strong would pretty much sum up his record in Abu Dhabi. The three victories and the second aside, Kaymer has finished third, fourth and sixth in 11 appearances. Sure, there were missed cuts on debut in 2007 and then again in 2012, and his shock collapse in 2015, but on the whole the tournament has been great to him.

His most recent victory in Abu Dhabi was arguably the most impressive. Kaymer cites it as the second best performance of his entire career, in fact, behind only his eight-shot win at the 2014 US Open.

He made a solitary bogey that week in 2011, displaying for the entirety what he describes as an unshakeable calmness. It carried him to the trophy. Within weeks, it had helped lift Kaymer to golf’s summit, too. Not that being world No 1 sat particularly well. He occupied top spot for eight weeks.

“I never felt like the best player in the world,” he says. “If you’re the best at something you should be able to do everything in that sport.

“But then I’ve understood the last two or three years, it’s not about playing or having everything in golf. You don’t need to be the best in everything. And back then I thought I needed to be the best at everything and I didn’t feel like it and I wasn’t.

“But it was an incredible year. A lot changed. As a person you grow a lot. That was a great start, when you win in Abu Dhabi. It gives you good motivation for the next 10, 11 months.”

His experience in 2015 might have sapped the motivation for longer. Kaymer had entered Sunday with a six-shot lead and seemed set to cruise to a fourth victory. By the sixth hole, he had increased his advantage to 10.

But then Kaymer carded a bogey, double-bogey and a triple in the space of eight holes. He posted a three-over par 75 and slipped to third. Afterwards, he could barely explain what had happened.

Three years on, he puts it down simply to a bad day at the office. It hasn’t dimmed his affection for Abu Dhabi one bit.

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“No, not at all,” Kaymer says. “Because you can’t see it for something real. It happened, but it was not the way I play. It was just an incident that happened and was OK and that’s it. I don’t think you should talk too much into wins or losses.

“When people say you learn more from your losses than your wins, I don’t think so. Because it’s the same intensity. You’re hurt and you’re sad, but then you’re very happy and satisfied.

“You have to deal with the result and move on. You have to see it really for what it is. And I knew the reasons for why it happened. It’s not like because the others played better. They did play well on the back nine, but I had my own issues, it was my own fault.

“And I know how to improve it and I learned a lot from it. But I learned a lot also from wins here, so I see it very equal.”

Without a victory since the 2014 US Open, and having slipped incredibly to 75th in the world, Kaymer could do with another Abu Dhabi success, just to tip that balance back in his favour.

“It would be nice to beat everyone again,” he says. “Just for myself. I haven’t won a tournament in a while. It would be a great place to start again and then have a good 2018.”

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