Kaymer holding all the aces
McDowell rallies hard to stay in the race after German's desert storm
GRAEME McDOWELL looked straight into Martin Kaymer's eyes as they shook hands on the first tee before yesterday's showdown in the desert sun -- and saw absolutely nothing.
Not a flicker of anticipation nor even the slightest sign of the nerves the 25-year-old German must have felt as he prepared the first shot that counted in what he freely admits is "the biggest week of my life".
"He'd be a hell of a poker player," admitted McDowell afterwards.
Kaymer's greatness as a golfer goes without saying -- especially after the first round 67, which lifted him to within two strokes of Robert Karlsson's tournament lead and left him five clear of McDowell, his only rival in the Race to Dubai.
Barely a dozen words were spoken between these two Ryder Cup comrades during yesterday's fraught four-and-a-half hour confrontation on the Earth Course in Dubai.
Three of them were uttered by McDowell on the third hole after Kaymer holed-out for eagle with a superlative, 192 yards seven-iron which flew high and, drawing ever so slightly, honed-in on the flag like a laser-guided missile.
"Well done," said McDowell to Kaymer as he offered him a congratulatory high-five. As he walked away, the Ulsterman added the word: "Awesome," saying it loud enough to be heard by spectators by the fairway ropes.
Later, McDowell would smile when someone suggested he'd been admirably enthusiastic in congratulating his opponent for one of the most memorable shots of a stellar four-year career on the European Tour.
"Enthusiastic is a bit strong," he quipped. "But it's always great to see a guy hole a shot like that."
Even when it followed a birdie on the par-five second hole and put Kaymer three strokes ahead after just three holes? Even when McDowell was grappling with his own game from tee to green and already was deeply embroiled in a day-long struggle to find the pace of the greens?
That the Portrush man is made of the right stuff would be seen to even better effect later in the afternoon as three potentially mortal blows were dealt to his hopes of winning the championship over four holes through the turn.
McDowell's US Open heroics at Pebble Beach last June and unforgettable match-clinching performance at September's Ryder Cup were founded on his unerring consistency in sinking putts anywhere from within six feet.
So, the three-putt bogeys he incurred on the ninth, 11th and 12th holes yesterday must have come as a numbing shock to his system.
Playing his fifth tournament in succession and suffering with a slight head cold picked-up on last Sunday night's flight from Hong Kong to Dubai, McDowell had been hoping that adrenaline would carry him through his 72-hole mission to bridge the €290,000 gap between himself and Kaymer at the top of the European Tour money list.
Yet after just 12 holes yesterday, he wallowed seven shots behind Kaymer. Did McDowell despair? Not a bit of it! Instead, he drew on the defiance which sets him apart as a golfer and chiselled out two birdies and a remarkable round of level par.
"I didn't feel 100pc and I had to dig deep today," he said. "I'm very happy with level par considering I started throwing shots away around the turn.
"It was hard today, because, as you say, there was a match play element to it and Martin got off to a flier. He actually played fantastic, all credit to him, but he's five shots ahead of me, that's all it is and there's 54 holes to go. There's a lot of golf to be played at the weekend."
Though admirably defiant in deed and then word, McDowell's prospects of winning this tournament from a share of 25th place, with so many of Europe's most accomplished players among the two dozen ahead of him on the leaderboard, are remote. Grim reality trumps raw courage every time.
As he set out yesterday, Kaymer needed only to beat McDowell to win the Race to Dubai, while the Northern Irishman had to see off virtually the rest of the elite 60-man field to overtake the German.
Yet, in his own words, Kaymer "would love to do the same as Lee Westwood did last year and with the last tournament here and the Race to Dubai. That would be very satisfying and make my Christmas nicer."
With yesterday's performance, the US PGA Champion showed he is back to his formidable best and is capable of claiming his fifth tournament victory of the season on Sunday and, in the process, possibly replace Lee Westwood at the top of the world rankings.
However, defending champion Westwood still may have something to say about that.
While Kaymer lay third last night, two behind Karlsson and one shy of Korea's Seung-Yul Noh, the Englishman, after an impressive bogey-free 69, was prominent with fellow countryman Ian Poulter in a six-way tie for fifth on three-under.
McDowell admitted he was happy "in a good way" to be paired with Alvaro Quiros instead of Kaymer today, saying: "It frustrated me a little bit playing with him today because he played so well. He made me feel like I was shooting 80 when I made those three-putts."
For sure, the Irishman will fight to the finish, but the poker-faced Kaymer is holding all the aces.
Dubai World Championship,
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