AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Martin Kaymer got a little jolt of adrenaline when he turned onto Magnolia Lane for the first time this year.
He’s the guy everyone else is chasing.
He’s No. 1.
Then, back to reality.
Major season begins at Augusta National, a course that’s bedeviled the 26-year-old German in his young career. Three times, he’s played the Masters. Three times, he’s failed to make it to the weekend.
“I haven’t done well here,” Kaymer said Tuesday. “But, you know, there’s always a first time.”
He’s already had a couple of big breakthroughs. Last August, Kaymer won the PGA Championship in a playoff for his first major title. Then, after an eight-shot romp at Abu Dhabi, he made the final of the Match Play in February to vault past Lee Westwood for the top spot in the world rankings.
“I wouldn’t say it’s important, but it’s a nice feeling,” Kaymer said. “I was not thinking that it would happen (this) soon. Obviously, my expectations, they were high, but I was not expecting myself to be No. 1 by the Masters.”
The top ranking comes with an additional burden.
The world’s best player isn’t supposed to be missing the cut in one of the biggest events.
With that in mind, Kaymer decided to change things up, hoping a different routine might produce a better result at the Masters. He traded the PGA Tour event in Houston for a week at Sage Valley, prepping his game at a more leisurely pace on the Tom Fazio-designed course right up the road from Augusta National.
“Obviously, I didn’t really play well here, never made the cut. So I needed to change something,” Kaymer said. “If you miss the cut three times, then I think it cannot get really worse.”
Indeed, it can’t get much worse.
Kaymer has broken par only once in six Augusta rounds. Three times, he’s struggled around the course with a mediocre score of 76. Forget the back nine on Sunday afternoon. He’s never made it to the front nine on Saturday morning.
What’s the problem?
Kaymer used to think that his game just didn’t set up well for Augusta National. He’s never been particularly adept at drawing the ball, producing shots that will bend gently from right to left on holes such as the fifth, and the ninth, and the 10th, and the 13th, and … well, you get the idea.
He’s even thought about how much easier it would be to tackle the course as a left-hander – specifically, defending champ and three-time winner Phil Mickelson.
“I wish I could play the other way around,” Kaymer said.
Mickelson chuckled at the thought.
“I would love Martin to play this tournament left-handed,” Mickelson quipped. “I don’t think the golf course favors one side or the other. There are a couple of holes that I feel more comfortable on left-handed. But there are a couple of holes that I feel more uncomfortable playing left-handed.”
Besides, Kaymer has settled on another reason for his Augusta woes.
“I was not sharp enough in my short game,” he said. “I missed a lot of short putts the last few years. I didn’t make a lot of up-and-downs. I only missed the cut by one or two shots always. If I could improve my short game this week, then obviously it’s no problem to make the cut.”
Like most Germans, Kaymer grew up playing soccer. It wasn’t until he was 14 or 15 that he decided to focus all his energies on one sport. Golf got the nod, but he still wonders where soccer might’ve taken him.
“I think I would have become good,” Kaymer said. “I don’t know if you would have seen me in 2006 in Germany playing the World Cup, but I think I would have been decent. Any sport that I approach, I try to become one of the best. That’s just my nature.”
Hard to argue with the results.
Kaymer had a brilliant year in 2010, winning four events and breaking the European Tour record for earnings in a season. His confidence is off the charts, and he hasn’t even reached the prime of his career.
Now, he just has to figure out Augusta National.
“If you win tournaments like (the PGA Championship), it gives you the motivation and the self-belief that you can win any tournament,” he said. “I have struggled here, but still there’s a reason why I am No. 1 in the world.
“So,” he added, sounding more sure of himself, “we’ll see what happens this week.”