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Martin Kaymer is in a race to the top

Martin Kaymer, 2010 Masters preview
Robert Beck/SI
A go-kart enthusiast, Kaymer missed two months last fall after breaking his foot in a crash, yet still finished third on the European money list.

There are many reasons to believe Martin Kaymer can win the 74th Masters. None are bigger than the numbers: He has risen to eighth in the World Ranking on the strength of five victories in the last 27 months. The retrofitting of Augusta National means that the Masters is no longer merely what Johnny Miller used to derisively call the "Augusta Spring Putting Contest," but the treacherous greens remain the course's most feared defense, and in 2009 Kaymer finished second on the European tour in both putts per round and putts per greens hit in regulation.

Then there's the gumption he displayed earlier this year at the Abu Dhabi Championship, where after holing a 15-footer to save par on the 71st hole he arrived on the par-5 home hole tied with Ian Poulter and a stroke ahead of Rory McIlroy. Kaymer smashed a drive well beyond his world-class adversaries and, from 276 yards out, followed with a laserlike three-wood to the heart of the green. Door slammed. "Nothing seems to faze him," marvels McIlroy.

For all that there is to like about Kaymer's game and guile, there is a more personal reason to fancy his chances at the Masters: This will be the first time he'll be playing Augusta National in front of his father, Horst. Family has been at the heart of all of Kaymer's triumphs in the game, and more than a little tragedy too.

Kaymer, 25, grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, playing the Mettmann Golf Club, which was close enough to the family home that he and his brother, Philip, who is two years older, would occasionally ride their bikes to the course. Almost from the beginning Horst compelled the boys to play from the tips on a 6,700-yard course, and he forbade the use of a tee even when they were wielding drivers. "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," says Martin.

Did Horst, a future senior club champion, use a tee during casual games with his sons? "Of course!" he says with a hearty chuckle. "It is much better that way!"

Martin and Philip both displayed a natural aptitude for the game, and they pushed each other to get better — "Never competitive, always supportive," says Horst. He and his wife, Rina, extracted a promise from the boys that they would not compete against each other in tournament play, but as teens Martin and Philip secretly entered a club championship on opposite sides of the match-play bracket. The night before they were to meet in the final they broke the news to their parents, who put aside their annoyance and followed their boys, cheering lustily. The match was all square arriving on the 18th hole, a tough par-4. Martin reached the green in regulation, while Philip missed it and had to chip up, giving his baby brother a putt for the victory. Martin proceeded to four-whack, handing the title to Philip. "It is a favorite story in our family," says Philip. "It is useful when we are, as you say in America, talking s---."

Martin survived the embarrassment and went on to win a number of regional tournaments, and by his late teens he began to entertain notions of playing professionally. He was scared to death to tell his father, a longtime corporate executive who had always made clear to his sons that he expected them to become respectable white-collar professionals. "Philip had too much brains to be a golfer, and law school was the right choice for him," says Martin. "I remember I was so nervous to tell my parents of my dream, but from the very beginning they were suppor tive." He turned pro in 2005 and entered European tour Q school that fall. In a showing of solidarity, Philip also plunked down the entry fee to play alongside his brother in the first stage. "He finished last, I finished first, so. . . ," says Martin, grinning. It was this result that sent Philip to law school.

After failing to make it through the final stage, Martin landed on the European Professional Development mini-tour. During the second round of the 2006 Habsberg Classic, he parred the 1st hole, bogeyed the 2nd and then played the next 16 holes in 14 under to shoot a 59 that in Kaymer's mind should have been lower. "I'm still annoyed that I parred the 17th hole, a really easy par-5," he says. More impressive than the 59 is that he threatened to do it again the next day, eventually settling for a 62 to go 27 under for three rounds and win by 10 strokes.

In August 2006 Kaymer was promoted to the Challenge tour, Europe's equivalent of the Nationwide circuit. His debut was to be a triumphant homecoming at the Vodafone Challenge near Düsseldorf, a 30-minute drive from the Kaymer family home. On the morning of the first round Rina, who had been in poor health, suffered a bad fall and was hospitalized for a battery of tests. Martin, normally reserved, is openly emotional when he talks about his mother.

"When I heard that she was in the hospital, I didn't want to play golf," he says. "It was like I had no fight in my body. I didn't care about golf. All I could think about was my mom."

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