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The Best Match-Up

2005 WGC Accenture Match PlayMARANA, Ariz. – It may not work for television executives, to say nothing of the casual golf fan, but more so than any other format match play excels at separating the wheat from the competitive chaff.

“I wish we could have more match-play events, maybe mix one into the fall,” said Ryan Moore. And that was after he’d just been bounced from the Arizona desert like a J.B. Holmes tee ball by Luke Donald in the quarterfinals at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, 5 and 4.

All the off-the-shelf golf fan needs to know of Sunday’s finals shootout between Martin Kaymer and Donald is that two of the game’s most consistent players withstood jumping cholla, fierce desert winds and five competitors to reach the title bout. They may not be the game’s brightest lights, but at this moment in time they are the best.

Martin Kaymer
Martin Kaymer will face Luke Donald in the WGC-Match Play final. (Getty Images)
Donald, who hasn’t seen the 18th hole in any of his matches this week and the 17th hole just once, has 11 worldwide top-10 finishes in his last 20 starts, just two missed cuts in that run, a victory and three runner-up finishes including at the Deutsche Bank Championship and Tour Championship.

It’s also worth noting that Donald began his 2011 Tour campaign with a swing change that he admitted on Saturday was still “a work in progress.” That should make Moore feel great, not to mention Matteo Mannassero (3 and 2), Edoardo Molinari (2 and 1) and Charley Hoffman (6 and 5), all of whom the Englishman dispatched with relative ease.

If nothing else, Donald will be rested when he tees off against Kaymer at just past noon here in the cold, and possibly snow covered, Arizona mountains having played just 62 holes to the German’s 67. He may need the extra energy.

The World Golf Ranking will finally catch up to what the golf world has known since last fall – Kaymer is the world’s best. That it took him this long to officially overtake Lee Westwood, which he did with his semifinal victory over Bubba Watson, is the result of a flawed two-year rolling window not Kaymer’s play.

Since his PGA Championship victory, Kaymer has added three more global goblets to his treasure chest and hasn’t finished worse than 31st in his last 11 starts.

Give Sir Nick Faldo credit, the 2008 Ryder Cup captain saw Kaymer’s potential – undoubtedly at the urging of his former caddie Fanny Sunesson, who has become part mentor, part sports psychologist for Kaymer – and gave the young phenom a walkie talkie and a front-row seat at the Valhalla matches.

If Kaymer’s play the last year is any indication, the 2008 Ryder Cup may be the last one he watches from the sidelines for a long time.

In fact, Saturday’s semifinal almost didn’t seem like a fair fight. The rematch of the 2010 PGA playoff was a study in contrasts, in one corner was Kaymer, coldly and clinically efficient, in the other was Watson who never met a swing worth repeating or a risk not worth taking.

Watson didn’t go quietly, carving his approach to the 17th hole to 6 feet for birdie to extend the match, but got into a chipping contest with a European at the last which is never a good idea, just ask Hunter Mahan, and lost 1 up with a bogey at the 18th hole when Kaymer got up-and-down for par with the uncluttered clarity befitting the world No. 1 elect.

“What makes him really strong is his mind,” said Watson, who has played his share of practice rounds with former No. 1 Tiger Woods. “Tiger’s mind in 2000 was unbelievable. I don’t know if (Kaymer’s) mind is that good, but time will tell.”

On Saturday, his ascension to the top of the world pack was no longer up for debate, but his choice of neck-ware was. For those wondering, the cloth Kaymer was wearing around his neck is called a buff which is an apropos assessment of his game.

Whether that lofty new spot translates to his second PGA Tour title, however, may be decided by a format change. The circuit reduced the WGC final from 36 to 18 holes this year, a policy adjustment that may give the hot-handed Donald – who has birdied 39 percent of the holes he’s played this week – an advantage.

“The good thing is we play only 18 not 36 tomorrow,” an exhausted Kaymer said, although he may rethink that after Sunday’s shootout.

It’s why Woods prefers the 36-hole marathon over an 18-hole sprint. It gives the better player more opportunities. Just like match play seems to identify the game’s best with much better expediency than the world ranking, which is why Kaymer and Donald are on a collision course.