'I am here to win. No one remembers second'
Martin Kaymer is one step away from the world No 1 spot after an unlikely journey
Tiger Woods has every reason to remember June 12, 2005. It was the day he reclaimed the world No 1 ranking from Vijay Singh -- a position he has maintained ever since.
Yet his potential successor Martin Kaymer has even greater cause to remember events from that very same week, as it was then that he began the long journey that could see him officially replace Woods as the world's best golfer on Sunday.
It all started to click for the young Kaymer in June five years ago, when, as an amateur golfer aged 20, he teed up against hungry young professionals in the Central German Classic -- a tournament on the European Professional Development mini-tour, two tiers below the European Tour.
Kaymer's prodigious young talent was quickly evident, as he finished 19-under-par after three rounds for an emphatic five-stroke victory over Wolfgang Huget, showing the first glimpse of his potential for greatness.
Since that win, the young German has worked his way up methodically, rising to become the standard bearer for golf's next generation.
Kaymer came good on that potential with his dramatic victory in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in August, a triumph that proved he is the brightest of all the young pros striving to become the next dominant golfer.
Now he has the chance to topple Woods, as the current world No 1's 281-week reign will come to an end on Sunday, one way or another.
Woods' decline since his life unravelled last November will finally be reflected in the rankings, when he will be replaced either by Englishman Lee Westwood or by Kaymer, should the German manage a win or tie for second place with one other player at this week's Andalucia Masters at Valderrama.
Westwood, the world No 2, will be at home in Worksop resting up the calf injury that has restricted him to only two tournaments -- including the triumphant Ryder Cup -- in the past three months, leaving No 3 Kaymer with the chance to leapfrog his way to the top.
Few, not even Westwood, would begrudge Kaymer top billing. The 25-year-old has been in peerless form since his first Major win at the US PGA, winning both the KLM Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
His potential ascent to the top comes as no surprise to those within the sport who have an eye on the next big thing.
Kaymer grew up in Dusseldorf, Germany, the son of a semi-professional footballer, Horst. Martin excelled at both golf and football, and as a teenage striker he signed forms with Fortuna Dusseldorf.
However, he preferred the more solitary sport of golf, which he played with his older brother Philip at the nearby Mettmann Golf Club.
Both showed genuine promise, and Horst used to insist the boys play without a tee, even when using a driver. "He wanted to make it more challenging for us, so when we were allowed to use tees in tournaments, hitting the driver would seem easy," Martin said in a recent interview.
Good as he was, coach Gunther Kessler said there was little hint of the great golfer he was to become.
Kessler said: "Martin didn't stand out among his peers right away, and we certainly had no reason to expect he would one day become one of the world's finest players. But, from the very beginning, we did notice that he worked harder than the others."
Under Kessler's guidance, it was not long before the younger Kaymer began to outplay his older brother, and while Philip embarked on a legal career, Martin targeted becoming a professional golfer after reaching scratch at the age of 15, and winning a couple of amateur tournaments in Austria.
That five-stroke victory in the summer of 2005 confirmed his choice, and he joined the ranks of the professionals the following year, playing and winning regularly on the EPD tour in Germany in 2006.
One victory in particular stood out, when he shot 59 and finished 27-under for three rounds at the 2006 Habsburg Classic. "I'm still annoyed that I parred the 17th hole, a really easy par-five," said Kaymer.
Another who helped bring out the potential in Kaymer has been Nick Faldo's former caddie Fanny Sunesson, who was guest speaker to Germany's best young golfers in 2004 -- the pair striking up a rapport that is still strong.
Kaymer said: "I really liked her as a person. Such a nice character, a nice person to hang out with, have dinner with. I seek her advice on pretty much everything. She is very, very smart, not only about the correct way to play golf but also the business side of the sport and the difficulties of being a touring professional."
From then, his rise has been swift but steady. Victories on the Challenge Tour in 2006 elevated him to the European Tour, where he recorded his maiden win at the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2008.
He followed it later that year with an emotional victory in the BMW International Open in Munich, which he dedicated to his mother Rina, who was soon to lose her battle with cancer.
The French and Scottish Opens followed in 2009, before a go-karting accident sidelined him for two months.
He said: "My foot was flipped back. I can't really remember much because the pain was insane. I broke three bones and my big toe was bent under the others so they had to re-break it and set it."
Kaymer has returned even stronger, with four victories so far this year and a crucial role on his debut in Europe's victory over America in the Ryder Cup.
The US PGA and the Ryder Cup have catapulted Kaymer into the public eye, but so far it does not seem to have affected him. Modest to a fault, he said last week he believes that Westwood, not he, should be the man to topple Woods.
"Lee is the best player in the world," said Kaymer, who partnered Westwood at the Ryder Cup. "The way he played with me at Celtic Manor was absolutely amazing. I really see him as a role model."
Whether he manages it on Sunday or not, it is a case of when, not if, Kaymer is crowned the world's top player. He is not a man happy to play for second place.
"I do have a big will to win. I really want it," he said. "If you are out there to secure top-10s or top-fives, that is the wrong attitude. I am here to win, not to finish high.
"When I have a chance to win, and don't win, then I am disappointed. Those chances are rare. Everyone remembers the winner. No one remembers the rest, not often anyway. I like the feeling of having beaten every other player in the field. That is very satisfying." (© Independent News Service)
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