AUGUSTA -- Strolling around the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, Martin Kaymer might be recognizable only to some of the most ardent golf fans.
But it’s the quiet, unassuming German rather than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Lee Westwood who enters the Masters as the top-ranked player in the world and the winner of the most recent major championship.
“When I became No. 1, I thought it would be quite nice to tee it up in Augusta as the No. 1 in the world,” Kaymer said. “So it was not very important, but it’s obviously a great feeling.”
Kaymer was a fixture in the top-10 rankings during the past two years, but the 26-year-old broke through with his win in a playoff over Bubba Watson at the PGA Championship in August at Whistling Straits. He followed the win with back-to-back wins on the European Tour that pushed him to within striking distance of Westwood for the No. 1 ranking.
Kaymer overtook Westwood in early March when he finished second to Luke Donald at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He previously won the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January.
“Obviously the biggest part from (winning the PGA Championship) is the confidence that you get,” Kaymer said. “If you become one of the best players in the world, if you win tournaments like that, that gives you the motivation and the self belief that you can win any tournament.”
Despite the success, Kaymer has remained largely anonymous, perhaps due to his subdued personality.
He said Tuesday that his manager overheard a group of patrions asking, “Who is that guy?” at the 2009 Masters. Kaymer was ranked No. 6 in the world at the time.
Some of the anonymity likely comes from Kaymer’s success in Europe.
He played solid on the European Tour for some time before making his big splash at Whistling Straits.
Kaymer has won nine times on that tour -- the PGA Championship counts as both a PGA Tour and a European Tour event -- with four of those coming in 2010. He also finished tied for eighth at the U.S. Open, tied for seventh at the British Open and tied for third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He went 2-1-1 in Europe’s win in last year’s Ryder Cup.
A major championship victory notwithstanding, Kaymer would have to overcome struggles at Augusta National if he hopes to contend at the Masters. He missed the cut in his previous three Masters appearances.
“I think my problem was always that 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.”
Kaymer’s margin for error this week is slim if he hopes to stay atop the world rankings.
The world golf rankings are so crowded right now that six of the top seven players could leave Augusta National ranked No. 1 (Kaymer, Westwood, Mickelson, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey and Woods) with a win this week.
Kaymer is the 14th player to be ranked No. 1 since the current system went into place prior to the 1986 Masters.
Only two players have held the ranking less than Kaymer’s six weeks at the top of the rankings. Bernhard Langer, the only other German to be ranked No. 1, was the first player ever ranked No. 1 in this current system, but he remained on top of the rankings for just three weeks before Seve Ballesteros took over. Tom Lehman was ranked No. 1 for a week.