European golf awakes today boasting the top two players in the world for the first time in 18 years. For England's Nick Faldo and Germany's Bernhard Langer, read England's Lee Westwood and Germany's Martin Kaymer. Last night the comparisons were criss-crossing the generations.
Except this was Kaymer's day and, appropriately enough considering the man he replaced as world No 2, the 26-year-old, at the very least, paid a passing resemblance to Tiger Woods. Kaymer sucked the atmosphere out of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and drained the fight out of his rivals in recording an eight-shot victory over Rory McIlroy.
The Woods comparisons are no doubt over the top; with nine career victories the USPGA champion does have some way to go before any legend says about him "he plays a game with which I'm not familiar". But when it comes to this event, the hyperbole does apply. As the words of Ian Poulter highlighted.
"I just had a chat with the world No 1 about the new No 2 and we are not sure what course Martin was playing," said the Englishman, dumbfounded at the 24-under winning total. "It's not the same course we played." Poulter missed the cut, while Westwood finished 26 shots behind, in a tie for 64th.
There was, however, no reason for any blushing on Westwood's behalf. Not only was this event a rust-removing exercise for him, but this desert is so clearly Kaymer's natural habitat.
As evidence consider that this was his third Abu Dhabi crown in four years and that in his "off" year he was second. Kaymer is 80-under for his last 16 rounds. And this just happened to be his best week ever. This was the first time in nine years a player has won on the European Tour with just one dropped shot since Woods at the WGC-CA Championship nine years ago. Kaymer's solitary bogey came on the third hole of his very first round. For the 69 holes thereafter he was faultless on the scorecard.
"It doesn't get better than that – unless, obviously, you have no bogeys, but I'm very happy," said Kaymer, after winning his fourth event from the last eight he has entered, starting with the USPGA last August. "It's funny, as my only bogey came from a shank. I wanted to go three days without a bogey as I'd never done that. Yes, this is the best I've ever played."
On leapfrogging Woods, he added: "It makes me very proud to be ranked higher than the player who, for me, is the best in the world. With Lee and me at Nos 1 and 2 it just shows how strong European golf is. Of course, the US Tour is a fantastic tour but our tour doesn't have to hide anywhere. Just look at Rory. It's just a matter of time before he wins a big, big tournament somewhere."
McIlroy began the day five behind, but failed to land a meaningful blow. When he bogeyed the fifth and Kaymer birdied, the gap was seven. "It was over there and then," confessed McIlory. The young Ulsterman commendably battled on for a 69 to ensure outright second ahead of Retief Goosen and Graeme McDowell in third. "This is a great starting point for me – hugely positive," said the 21-year-old. "I don't think there's anybody in the world who could have topped Martin this week. He's a class act."
Indeed he is and this triumph sets up the rest of the Desert Swing magnificently. Kaymer and Westwood will next meet at next week's Qatar Masters, where the former could usurp the latter as No 1. Then, the week after, Woods – who makes his seasonal bow at Torrey Pines on Thursday – will arrive in the United Arab Emirates for the Dubai Desert Classic.