DORAL, Fla. -- Let the run-up to the Masters begin. With the entire top 50 in the World Ranking among the elite 69-player field gathered this week at the Doral Resort for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, the picture as to who to favor in the Masters should begin to get clearer. And truly, it has rarely been as out of focus as it is now. While the rankings say Martin Kaymer of Germany is No. 1, there is no clear possessor of the title "Best in the World," and even Kaymer admits that.
Two days after Kaymer secured the top spot at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, he was paid a surprise visit at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home by his father, Horst. "He said, 'next time you are in Germany who knows if you are number one,'" Kaymer said Tuesday at Doral with a bemused smile before adding; "I would have done the same thing, probably.
The only other German to hold the top spot was Bernhard Langer the week the World Ranking made its debut in 1986. Langer stayed there for three weeks and never got it back. "It would be nice to hold it one day longer than Bernhard," Kaymer said playfully. "But it can change weekly now who is No. 1 in the world, especially now how tight it is."
And tightness at the top of the World Ranking is something that has rarely existed since Tiger Woods first climbed to No. 1 with his victory in the 1997 Masters. Consider these numbers:
On Dec. 31, 2007, Woods was No. 1 with 19.62 points. Phil Mickelson was No. 2 with 8.72 points. So than means Woods had a lead over Mickelson of 10.90 points.
Kaymer now has a TOTAL of 8.24 points -- less than the GAP between Woods and Mickelson at the beginning of the 2008 season. More amazing is the fact that No. 998 in the world right now -- Vicente Blazquez with 0.05 points -- is closer to No. 1 Kaymer than No. 2 Mickelson was to No. 1 Woods and the end of 2007.
Woods' lead over No. 5 at the end of 2007 was 13.17 points; over No. 10 was 14.54 points; over No. 20 was 16.19 points and over No. 30 was 16.84 points.
Kaymer's lead over No. 5 Woods is now 2.12 points; over No. 10 Matt Kuchar is 2.74; over No. 20 Miguel Angel Jimenez is 4.43 and over No. 30 Adam Scott is 5.03.
The possibility of there being several players -- including Woods -- to hold the top spot this year is quite likely. "It would be fantastic if Tiger came back and we could play against the best ever in top form and see if we can beat him," Kaymer said. "I don't think so if he is like he was in 2000."
But for Kaymer, part of his mission has already been accomplished -- he has achieved the top spot in golf. "I've been No. 1 in the world for at least seven days," he said he thought last week when his accomplishment sank in, "and no one can ever take that away from me."
As Martin sat around a table at a steakhouse in Scottsdale with his father, brother Philip and friend Patrick they surprised him with a cake inscribed: "Congratulations No. 1 in the World." Kaymer, who describes himself as patient on the golf course but not off it, said: "It was a very satisfying feeling. Everyone at the table was proud. I could not have done it without the three people there."
Congratulatory messages also came in from Langer "and several soccer players you have probably never heard of," Kaymer said. He hopes his accomplishment will have a greater impact on the growth of golf in Germany than did Langer's because of the information age in which we now live.
"I think golf can be as big as tennis in Germany if I have the same success Bernhard did," Kaymer said. Then he added an interesting observation about his personal situation: "There is still something missing. I don't now what it is, what I have to win." Perhaps it is the Masters, where he has failed to make the cut in three tries and for which he has learned to draw the ball.
"If you fade the ball only you make the course more difficult," he said. "I needed to add that golf shot to my game." It's there now, and that improves his chances at Augusta National in April, when he may be No. 1 in the rankings -- or No. 10, it is that volatile.
"To be honest, there is no difference," Kaymer says about the feeling of being No. 1. "It is only with the media that it has changed. Instead of being asked if I can be No. 1, I am now asked if I can stay No. 1." And then he smiled and shrugged.
When Jack Nicklaus won his last major at the 1986 Masters the consensus was we would never see a player as dominant again because the talent pool was that deep. Just 10 years, later we had Tiger Woods. Someone will come along, he always has -- from Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan to Nicklaus and Woods. Perhaps this time it will be Kaymer -- or perhaps we will have to wait another 10 years. Right now, the numbers say Kaymer is the best on the world, but right now it is really rule by committee.
-- Ron Sirak
(Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)