Vaulting Toward the Top

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2011, 1:00 am

Germany’s Martin Kaymer is caught up in the climb.

Ask Kaymer if he wants to be No. 1 in the world rankings, and he’ll tell you he’s not sure he’s ready to reach the peak, but he’s relishing the journey, the challenge of scaling the mountain.

The greatest German golfer who ever lived likes that about Kaymer.

“Martin’s focused, level-headed, not full of himself at all,” says Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters winner with 83 worldwide titles. “He knows he needs to keep improving, and he takes things step by step. He sets small goals knowing if he achieves them they’ll turn into big goals.”

Kaymer reached a peak no other German but Langer’s reached when he won a major championship late last summer. Now, with Friday’s run up the leaderboard in a bid to defend his title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Kaymer’s scaling closer to reaching yet another mountaintop only Langer’s reached in German golf history. Kaymer’s closing in on the No. 1 world ranking.

With a top-seven finish Sunday, Kaymer’s assured of climbing over Tiger Woods into the No. 2 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

With a victory, Kaymer won’t surpass Lee Westwood as No. 1 in the world, but he’ll persuade a lot of people that he ought to be No. 1. In fact, a lot of people already believe he’s the best player on the planet over the last year.

Abu Dhabi would be Kaymer’s fifth title in the last 13 months, a haul that includes the PGA Championship.

Westwood? He’s won twice in that span, with one of those victories against a 12-man field at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.

Martin Kaymer
Martin Kaymer's victory at the 2010 PGA Championship made him just the second German to win a major championship.

Woods? He’s winless over the last 13 months.

At 26, Kaymer sometimes seems unprepared for the swiftness of the success he’s earning, but preparation is what he’s so intently focused upon.

“I see 2011 a little bit as a year of practicing, of improving myself in order to play well the next two, three, four years,” Kaymer told a media gathering on the eve of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Three or four years? The man could be No. 1 in two weeks.

“It’s not my goal,” Kaymer said. “Maybe, at one stage, but not this year.

“If it comes, it would be great this year. I will have a few chances this year to become the No. 1, if I play well enough. That’s why I would like to, maybe, become No. 1 as a little side goal. If I play well in the World Golf Championships or the majors or big events, it will happen automatically, but it's not my main goal to become No. 1 in the world.”

Langer reigned as No. 1 for three weeks in April of 1986. He was the first player to hold the top spot with the creation of the Official World Golf Ranking, known back then as the Sony world rankings.

Langer’s long-time coach, Willie Hofmann, has been working with Langer in Boca Raton, Fla., the last couple weeks. He sees a lot of Langer in Kaymer.

“I’ve known Martin a long time,” Hofmann said. “Like Bernhard, he’s very dedicated, always working, working working.”

For years, Langer’s been asked when the next great German golfer will rise up and follow in his footsteps. He isn’t being asked anymore.

“I’ve been hoping for this for many, many years,” Langer said. “There were a couple guys who looked like they could be pretty good, but nobody was as good as Martin is. He’s in a different class.

“Martin’s a hard worker, and he’s learned a good technique. He hits the ball far, he hits it straight, and he’s got a pretty good short game. You put that all together, and that’s what a champion is made of.”

Langer is rooting for Kaymer to gain the No. 1 world ranking.

“I believe it could very well happen,” Langer said. “I think he has all that it takes. He has the mental capacity and all the rest. He’s still very young. It might not happen right away, but if he stays healthy and focused, I think it will happen one day.'

That time may be coming faster than anyone believed possible, including Kaymer.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Getty Images

After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

Getty Images

Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

Getty Images

Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

Getty Images

Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry