He went close in Wales and Sweden during the 2007 season but Martin Kaymer finally realised the joy of becoming a European Tour champion when he won his maiden title in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
The 23 year old German – winner of The Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year on The European Tour last season – led from the first day and indeed began the last round with a six shot lead. He finally closed out the title and the €225,421 (£170,135) winners’ cheque with a final round 74 for a 15 under par total of 273.
In the end the winning margin was four shots from the experienced duo of Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood of England who closed with respective rounds of 71 and 70 for an 11 under par total of 277, the victory seeing Kaymer move up to fifth on The European Tour Order of Merit.
It also saw the talented young man move into the top 35 on the Official World Golf Ranking and also take the record as the youngest German winner in European Tour history, his victory coming at age 23 years and 24 days, 14 days younger than Bernhard Langer was when he won the 1980 Dunlop Masters.
Cradling the impressive falcon trophy, he said; “This is an unbelievable feeling. The back nine was tough especially with players like Stenson and Westwood chasing me. I was struggling a bit on the front nine but I just tried to stick to my game plan and hit fairways and greens.
“For those guys to catch me they had to make birdies and I really tried to stay patient and just try to make pars. It is not always an easy thing to do but I was very proud of the way I handled myself and I am thrilled the way today worked out.”
Kaymer looked invincible over the first three days of play on the immaculately prepared National Course, rounds of 66, 65 and 68 giving him a seemingly impenetrable six shot lead going into the final round.
But crossing the winning line is always the hardest step to take in any sport and Kaymer admitted to feeling the pressure when he dropped three shots in a row from the fourth to give the chasing pack hope that they could catch him.
The flame of hope burned brightest in the hearts of Westwood and Stenson, playing together in the penultimate group behind Kaymer and England’s Anthony Wall who fell away, especially when they both reached the turn in one under par 35 to Kaymer’s 39.
Suddenly the gap was manageable but a birdie for Kaymer at the 554 yard tenth settled the young German’s nerves although a bogey four at the short 12th showed there was still work to do.
However, in the match in front, Westwood and Stenson’s quest for birdies began to dry up and when the Englishman recorded five straight pars from the 13th before dropping a shot at the last, while the Swede’s only departures from par on the back nine came with a birdie at the 14th and a bogey at the 16th, Kaymer found himself with a comfortable three shot lead as he stood over his approach shot to the 18th green.
With the pressure of another title slipping through this grasp finally lifted from his shoulders, Kaymer exhibited exactly why he is already being talked about as having an outside chance of featuring in Nick Faldo’s European Team for The Ryder Cup at Valhalla in September with a superb birdie four to close to see his winning margin as four for the record books.
“I want to win more tournaments but everybody is already asking me if I want to play in The Ryder Cup,” he said. “Of course I want to play in The Ryder Cup but I am not expecting it yet. But if I could play it would be unbelievable. It would be awesome. But the goal for now and the rest of the year is to win more tournaments.”
Joint runners up Westwood and Stenson battled hard but both men conceded they had left themselves a little too much to do, hence leaving little or no room for error.
“I have been struggling with my tee ball all week long and it was no difference today and I didn’t hit enough fairways,” said Stenson. “Because of that I haven’t been able to hit my driver enough and I didn’t feel comfortable on the tee. I think that made the difference for me, if I had a strong driver in the bag I felt like I could have given him a run for his money.
“It is an important year with The Ryder Cup at the end of the season and this brings some good points in for both Lee and myself and that is where I’m heading. I will just try and be consistent for the rest of the year to fill up the points.”
Westwood added; “I thought I had a chance up until the end, I mean a two shot swing can happen any time here but I was really pleased with the way I played tee to green today – nothing really happened on the greens. I holed from about 15 feet on the second but apart from that nothing really happened.
“But I have been playing very consistently, driving the ball well and hitting some good iron shots and it is all coming together nicely. As for today, I think I gave them all a little bit too much of a head start this week, two under over the first two days is not really good enough, you want to be a bit closer than that. But I put up a fight at the weekend which was good. I was hoping to get to double figures and I got to 11 under so I am pleased with that.”
Completing the top five were England’s Richard Finch and Ignacio Garrido of Spain who finished in a share of fourth place on ten under par 278.