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Vaulting Toward the Top

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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