MARANA, Ariz. – Stoic as ever, Martin Kaymer rolled in an 8-foot par putt on the 18th hole Saturday and treated it like another day at the office, removing his cap to shake hands with his latest victim.
Kaymer is not ready to celebrate becoming the new No. 1 player in golf.
Right now, he just wants to be No. 1 at the Match Play Championship.
The 26-year-old German outlasted Bubba Watson to end a long day at Dove Mountain and reach the championship match, assuring that he will be No. 1 in the next world ranking.
Kaymer becomes the 14th player to top the ranking and the second-youngest player to be No. 1. Tiger Woods was 21 when he first reached No. 1 in the world in June 1997.
But the celebration will have to wait. Next up for Kaymer is Luke Donald, who set an Accenture Match Play Championship record by needing only 73 holes in five matches to reach the final.
“When I hear those things, that I’m No. 1 in the world on Monday … I’m in the middle of a tournament,” Kaymer said. “It would be fantastic tomorrow if I could win. Then it really feels like I deserve to be No. 1. I’m not saying that I don’t deserve it, but it would make me feel better if I would win instead of finishing second tomorrow.
“So yes,” he said with a smile, “it’s a little strange.”
There should be no debate whether the “Germanator” deserves to be No. 1. He ends the 17-week reign of Lee Westwood, who only had three wins on his world ranking ledger when he became No. 1.
Kaymer has won seven times in the last two years, including his first major at the PGA Championship in August, when he holed a clutch putt on the final hole and beat Watson in a three-hole playoff at Whistling Straits.
Asked who he thought was No. 1, Kaymer replied, “Still Lee Westwood – until Monday.”
“When the rankings say that I’m the No. 1, then I’m the best player in the world,” he said. “And if they say so, then that’s the truth. Maybe on Tuesday or Wednesday, when I see my name up there, I’ll definitely take a picture of that moment.”
Kaymer is the second German to reach the top of the ranking. Bernhard Langer was the inaugural No. 1 when the world ranking was created at the 1986 Masters, although Langer lasted only three weeks.
“It’s a very proud moment,” Kaymer said. “Not only for me, for my family, for the people who helped me and for Germany.”
More hard work awaits.
No one has been more dominant at Dove Mountain than Donald, who has yet to trail in any of his five matches. Donald only had to play 27 holes in his quarterfinal win over Ryan Moore and his demolition of Matt Kuchar in the semifinals.
It marks the second straight year for an all-European final in this World Golf Championship. A year ago, Ian Poulter defeated Paul Casey in the championship match.
Watson, who came into Saturday having played only 43 holes in three matches, faced 37 holes in a long and wild day. Watson was 5 down with eight to play against J.B. Holmes when he staged an amazing comeback. Holmes hit into the desert at the wrong time and lost in 19 holes.
Kaymer and Watson were all square going to 15 when it turned in favor of the “Germanator.”
Watson tried to play a massive slice on the 334-yard hole with his driver, but it sailed far to the left and into a desert bush. He had to take a penalty drop and gave away the hole. Then with Kaymer long and right on the par-3 16th, Watson also missed the green and failed to get up-and-down for par, giving Kaymer a 2-up lead with two holes to play.
Watson made a 6-foot birdie putt on the 17th to stay in the match, but his shot from a fairway bunker on the 18th spun off the false front of the green. Kaymer went long, chipped to 8 feet and made the par.
“The matches I had were very difficult,” said Kaymer, who also went 18 holes in a 1-up win over Miguel Angel Jimenez in the quarterfinals earlier Saturday.
Not so for Donald, who headed to the gym during the final hour of the Kaymer match to work up a sweat. He hasn’t gotten too much of a workout on the golf course through five matches.
A win for Donald would move him up to a career-best No. 3 in the world.
“That would be an added bonus,” Donald said. “I’ll be concentrating on trying to beat whoever I’m playing against and trying to pick up a trophy.”
Donald has been nothing short of brilliant on his record-setting march to the final.
When he holed a short birdie putt on the par-5 13th to close out Kuchar, it was his 13th birdie in 27 holes he played in quarterfinal and semifinal matches. Donald has played only 73 holes in five matches, the fewest of anyone to reach the championship match in the 13-year history of this tournament. The previous record was 77 holes by Woods in 2003.
Donald became only the second finalist to have never seen the 18th hole in competition. Geoff Ogilvy in 2007 was the other. With the format change from 36 holes to 18 holes for Sunday, he could go the entire tournament without playing No. 18.
“Hopefully, I don’t get to it again tomorrow – the right way,” Donald said.
He has been so dominant that Donald has not trailed on a single hole all week – on only five of 73 holes has his match been all square.
“I’ve been stringing together a lot of good rounds, making birdies and not too many mistakes,” he said. “I’ve been tough to beat this week, and hopefully that can continue.”
Donald won three straight holes around the turn to build a big lead against Ryan Moore in the quarterfinals, winning 5 and 4. He looked even better against Kuchar, seizing the lead with a tee shot into 4 feet on the par-3 third hole, starting a stretch in which he won seven of the next eight holes.
“Had I got somebody else on today’s round, I may have still been able to come out with a win,” Kuchar said. “You face Luke Donald on a day he’s really hot, you pack your bags early.”
Donald has been hot all week.
Now comes Kaymer, whom he described as a steady, consistent player, as the last two years have shown.
“Like me, but hits it further,” Donald said with a smile.
There are a few other differences, too. Kaymer has a major, and he is about to be No. 1 in the world.