Kaymer's romp has him in line for golf's throne

By Joe PosnanskiJune 16, 2014, 5:29 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – There is always a No. 1-ranked player in the world. That’s how math works. Someone has to compile the most points. Someone has to be at the top of the list. 

But there is a huge difference between being No. 1, which comes down to a formula, and the being the best, which comes down to a feeling. There have been six different No. 1 players since Tiger Woods’ game began to teeter a bit.

But there has not been a best golfer in the world since that time.

And that might be about to change.

In the last 20 months, Martin Kaymer made the putt that kept the Ryder Cup in Europe. He won the The Players Championship. And this weekend he put on a display of golf at Pinehurst No. 2 that left his peers awestruck. It wasn’t just that he won the U.S. Open by eight shots. It wasn’t just that he finished at 9 under par during a week when only two other players barely bettered par.

No, it was that the world’s best players weren’t even sure what game he was playing.

“I’m wondering how he did it,” said Rory McIlroy, once the No. 1-ranked player on earth.

“He kind of killed the event in the first two days,” said Henrik Stenson, the No. 2-ranked player in the world now.

“Tiger Woods 2000 is here,” Bo Van Pelt said. “He looks just like Martin Kaymer this week.”

Kaymer was Tiger dominant – a 65 in brutal conditions on Thursday; a 65 on Friday with the pressure of being the leader; a spellbinding 72 on Saturday when the USGA tried to melt him down with landmine pin placements; a decisive 69 on Sunday with everyone watching for the first fissure. This was a performance akin to Woods at Pebble Beach or St. Andrews in 2000, Nicklaus at the 1965 Masters, Ray Floyd in Augusta in 1976, Rory at Congressional in 2011 and Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews in 2010.

And it came from a man who might have what it takes to not only regain the No. 1 spot in the rankings, but to do what’s more difficult – to become what you might call the heavyweight golfing champion of the world. That was a title that used to matter, too – heavyweight champion of the world – before boxing fractured and ruptured and every other Kiwanis Club began giving out their own title belts.

There is no official heavyweight golfing champion. It comes down to how people – fans, players, media, betting parlors, Fortune 500 companies – see you. To become heavyweight champ, it’s not enough to collect enough points and pick up a bunch of top-10 finishes. In the last few years, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, McIlroy, Adam Scott and Kaymer have been ranked No. 1 in the world. But did anyone really see any of them as the world’s best player? Scott is a wonderful player, but he has one major championship and five PGA Tour wins in the last four years, and that’s just not going to get it done. Westwood and Donald have never won a major; you can’t be the heavyweight champion of golf without one.

McIlroy has those two majors, but you never know what you’re going to get with him. After going into 2013 as the No. 1-ranked player he was a non-factor at Augusta, worse at the U.S. Open, and he missed the cut at the British Open. He has spoken honestly about how he just wasn’t ready for the moment.

So, you ask: Who has been the heavyweight champion of golf the last five or six years? And my answer is this: Nobody. Even Woods, who won a bunch of non-majors last year, could not take back his title, because he has not won a major in six years. The crown has been abdicated until such time when someone can pull the sword from the stone and become king. It was this way, too, in the mid-to-late 1990s when a bunch of golfers like Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Ernie Els and Fred Couples briefly reigned. It took the Alexander the Great awesomeness of Woods to consolidate power and take control of the game.

Is Kaymer good enough to do that, to become the clear-cut best golfer in the world? Maybe. There are a few things that make Kaymer intriguing. For one: He has already faced some demons. Kaymer skyrocketed to the No. 1 ranking after he won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2010. Kaymer was 26 years old when he climbed to No. 1 and nobody outside of golf’s inner circle had even heard of him. He was an example of a player who was ranked No. 1, but not the greatest.

Kaymer wanted the latter. He decided to learn how to hit a draw, so that he could win at Augusta. Kaymer’s natural shot shape is a cut – a gentle fade from left to right. But Augusta mostly requires a draw – a shot that moves right to left. It was a fascinating decision for Kaymer, to basically try to change his golf swing just as he got to No. 1. He could have kept the old swing, won many millions, enjoyed life. But that wasn’t enough for his ambition. This was reminiscent of what Woods did after winning the ’97 Masters by a record score. It was reminiscent of what Tom Watson did after he won his first major championship, the 1975 British Open. I have asked Watson many times what would motivate a man who just won his first major to tear up his golf swing.

“I wanted to be the best golfer in the world,” he says every time. “And I did not have a swing good enough to do that.”

“I’ve answered that question so many times, honestly, I get tired of it,” Kaymer said when asked the same question Sunday. “I’m sorry. But I just want to become a complete player, that’s it.”

He does not want to revisit that anymore, and you can’t blame him. Kaymer’s effort to hit a draw turned disastrous. His entire swing fell apart. This was happening just as he was getting worldwide attention for the first time – and massive attention in Germany. In 2012, he missed cuts at the British Open and the PGA Championship and was lost. He had his Ryder Cup heroics late that year, but the slump did not stop at Medinah. He dropped out of the top 50 in the rankings. He readily admits he began to despise golf. Even at that Ryder Cup, when he ended up hero, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal seemed to be protecting him – or hiding him – before Sunday singles.

Kaymer admits he began to despise the game.

Let’s be blunt about this: This is usually a one-way trip into golf oblivion. Most great players don’t find their way back. David Duval didn’t. Ian Baker-Finch didn’t. But Kaymer was unwilling to give in. He tried relentlessly to find his old swing and, in the process, he found something even better: his old joy for golf.

I loved what he had to say Saturday when asked about how he felt on the 18th tee with a big lead at the U.S. Open.

“I watched ‘Bagger Vance’ yesterday,” he said of that ethereal golf movie that tries to make the game Zen-like. “And he said, ‘At the end of the day we’re playing a game.’ And that is what we’re doing. We can’t control a lot of things that happen on the golf course. You have to play the game.

“I like to be in control of things. It’s the way I think a lot of Germans are. But at the end of the day, you have to feel on the golf course. You have to create that feel and trust your skill and all the work. And today when I was standing on 18, that’s a tough tee shot. There’s pretty much no fairway. It’s very difficult to see any fairway from the back tee.

“So you stand there and, for me, it was such an enjoyable shot because I knew exactly where I wanted to aim. And I thought, ‘What a great position this is now.”

That’s some pretty deep stuff from Kaymer – to be able to have such positive thoughts in the middle of the golf tournament is positively Nicklaus-like.

Professional golf is a better game with a dominant player. He gives everyone someone to target. He gives the fans someone to root for or against. He gives tournaments shape and rhythm and a certain order. Was anyone really surprised that Scott, the world’s current No. 1-ranked player, did not contend at the U.S. Open and didn’t really contend at the Masters, either? No. He actually finished ninth at the Open, 14th at the Masters – that’s good, right?

It is good. Scott has now finished top 15 in four consecutive majors. That’s the sort of consistency that makes a player No. 1. But it doesn’t make him the king.

Kaymer is the man who would be king, now. After the PGA Championship, after the Ryder Cup, after The Players Championship and after that virtuoso performance at Pinehurst, he’s the one guy who seems to have the game, the determination and the mental strength to become  the heavyweight champion of golf – the first true titleholder since Woods. The rankings put him at No. 11. But the eyes and heart put him much higher.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.