MARANA, Ariz. » Four years ago in another desert, caddie Fanny Sunesson was sitting near the putting green at Bighorn Golf Club waiting for her work day to start when she mentioned her part-time job with the German national team.
Bernhard Langer was approaching 50. There was no heir apparent in German golf.
Sunesson, filling in for Michelle Wie at the time, mentioned one young prospect with natural skill and amazing poise who had recently turned pro. His name was Martin Kaymer.
"Didn’t I tell you to remember his name?" she asked playfully from behind the 10th green Saturday morning at Dove Mountain, where she watched Kaymer dispose of another opponent in the Match Play Championship on his way to becoming No. 1 in the world.
Stardom came faster for Kaymer than it has for any player this side of Tiger Woods.
And there were early signs of greatness, even if not as many people were paying attention.
Kaymer shot 59 on a mini-tour in Europe, a magic number at any level. He earned his European Tour card without going to Q-school, then was rookie of the year. After winning his first European Tour event in 2008 at Abu Dhabi, he threw down a birdie-birdie-eagle finish in Dubai to finish one shot behind Woods.
Ernie Els wasn’t kidding three years ago when he said of Kaymer, "He’s going to be something, I promise you."
Kaymer officially took over as No. 1 in the world yesterday. How long he stays at the top remains to be seen, for Lee Westwood will have a chance to take it back this week at the Honda Classic.
This time, however, this is no debate over No. 1.
Despite critics of the world ranking system — most of them in the United States — Westwood earned his No. 1 ranking. Although he has not won a major, no one performed better and more consistently in the biggest tournaments over the two-year period that the ranking uses to measure players around the world.
So why the debate?
Westwood had three wins during those years. One was the St. Jude Classic, a middle-tier event on the PGA Tour, and only because Robert Garrigus made triple bogey on the 18th hole. Adding to the skepticism, Westwood was home in England the day he reached No. 1, clinched when Kaymer didn’t finish in the top two that week at the Andalucia Masters.
Kaymer’s rise to the top was far more active.
The 26-year-old German has won seven times over the past two years. He won a major with the kind of shots that suggest the PGA Championship won’t be his last one. Kaymer holed a 15-foot par putt on the last hole that got him into a playoff. After Bubba Watson birdied the first of a three-hole playoff, Kaymer answered with a birdie on the toughest par 3 at Whistling Straits.
That was the start of three straight wins.
There is a mystique about the "Germanator," who has no glaring weakness and is determined to fix the flaws only he can see. When Europe’s best — not to mention Phil Mickelson — gathered at the Abu Dhabi Championship, Kaymer beat the strongest field on the European Tour by eight shots.
And when Westwood was bounced out of the second round of the Match Play Championship, it opened up an opportunity for Kaymer to reach No. 1 if he could get to the championship match.
He rallied over the final six holes to beat Hunter Mahan in the third round. He hit hybrid onto the 18th green to secure par and beat Miguel Angel Jimenez in the quarterfinal, then calmly holed an 8-foot par on the 18th hole to beat Watson in the semifinal.