Kaymer takes down Bubba to earn No. 1 ranking

Kaymer takes down Bubba to earn No. 1 ranking

Martin Kaymer faces Luke Donald in Sunday's final.
Robert Beck/SI

MARANA, Ariz. — Golf has a new No. 1 player. It’s Martin Kaymer of Germany after he beat Bubba Watson in a tough match and advanced to Sunday’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship final against England’s Luke Donald.

The win meant Kaymer will pick up enough points to slip past the current No. 1 player, Lee Westwood, who was eliminated in the second round.

“It is a very proud moment for me, my family, all the people who helped me, and Germany, as well,” he said. “To be the second one to do it is a nice feeling.”

Bernhard Langer was the first German to reach No. 1.

Kaymer has reached the top with an impressive mix of power and precision. He’s reasonably long off the tee, accurate with his irons and an outstanding putter. That combination was too much for Watson, who rallied from 5 down with eight holes to play to knock out J.B. Holmes in the quarterfinals.

Watson’s semifinal match against Kaymer was all square with four holes to play. At the drivable par-4 15th hole, however, Watson sliced his shot left of the green into desert scrub and was forced to take a penalty drop. Kaymer got up-and-down from a bunker for birdie and a 1 up lead. At the par-3 16th, a gust of wind caught Watson’s tee shot and sent it long, just over the green. Watson failed to get up-and-down and went 2 down after Kaymer made par.

But Watson fought back with a clutch six-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to keep the match alive. On 18, Watson’s run ended when the hole was halved with pars. Kaymer advanced to the final match — and earned the No. 1 ranking.

One question, though: Why are world ranking points even awarded for the Match Play Championship? A player who wins this week only has to beat six opponents instead of 155, like a regular stroke-play event.

When Kaymer won last year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, for instance, he beat one of the strongest fields of the year. He outscored them all, except for Watson, whom Kaymer defeated in a playoff. To reach the final this week at Dove Mountain, Kaymer defeated (in order) Seung-yul Noh, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Watson. Good golfers, all, but Mahan, at 18th, was the highest-ranked player among his victims.

So let’s get this straight — Kaymer moves up to No. 1 this week even though he didn’t beat anyone ranked among the top 15 in the world? He didn’t beat the man on top, Westwood, or No. 4 Graeme McDowell or No. 5 Phil Mickelson or No. 3 Tiger Woods. All of the top players were here, yes, but Kaymer didn’t have to face any of them.

And if he did beat them in an 18-hole match, how much would that mean? It’s only 18 holes. The world rankings are mostly based on 72-hole, stroke-play tournaments. Counting 18-hole match results, which players here admit is little more than a coin toss, is the equivalent of declaring a winner after the first quarter of a football game.

It’s an issue that has repercussions for the players because the points have become so important for filling out the fields for big tournaments. J.B. Holmes, for instance, needed to reach the semifinals to get into the next World Golf Championship event at Doral.

It was pretty easy to make the case that Kaymer already was the No. 1 player in the world last year. He amassed more world ranking points in 2010 than anyone else. And the fact that he’s arriving at No. 1, even if belatedly, means that the current system gets a lot of things right.

That said, there is no perfect system for golf rankings. College football and basketball rankings are weekly polls taken after regularly scheduled games. Golfers like Woods sometimes go weeks without playing. Golf isn’t like NASCAR, where all the top drivers run every event.

So there are going to be inconsistencies like Westwood being No. 1 last year, even though he didn’t win a major championship while Kaymer and McDowell did. How important should winning be vs. consistently high finishes? Should a player who dominates a tournament and wins by six or eight shots earn exactly the same number of points as a player who ekes out a win in a three-man playoff?

But, for now, forget about the rankings and enjoy what should be a fascinating match, especially if the predicted nasty weather arrives.

We’ve got an all-European final on Sunday between a pair of Ryder Cup teammates.

“He is one of the nicest guys out here and a very good match-play player,” Kaymer said of Donald. “We’re playing for a big trophy here.”

No matter what happens, Kaymer will be No. 1 — even if Donald drums him 7 and 6.

Prediction for Final Match 2:20 p.m. Eastern
So far, it’s been Donald starring in “Unstoppable.” He birdied 13 of the 27 holes he played Saturday. He’s birdied 27 of the 73 holes he’s played during the week, with only four bogeys. Donald knows the secret to match play is not to give away holes, which he excels at due to his fantastic short game. Kaymer is a tough customer, but he looked a little fatigued by the end of his match against Watson. Donald played only 27 holes Saturday. Kaymer played all 36. The Pick: Donald.