If the rest of this European Tour season turns out to be as enthralling as this curtain-raiser then the organisers and sponsors should lick their lips and the Americans had better watch out. Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy gave further evidence of the quality at Colin Montgomerie's disposal, with the young German eventually emerging the victor after a titanic three-way tussle.
How Kaymer reminded of his countryman Bernhard Langer, holding his nerve to prevail, by a single shot. He began the last hole level with Poulter but a cool birdie on that par five was enough to deny the Englishman. Poulter had nothing to be ashamed of, however, as his 66 matched that of Kaymer. McIlroy, meanwhile, shot a 67. Hardly shabby.
It was Kaymer's second Abu Dhabi Golf Championship title and hauled him to sixth in the world. He expressed his hope that it will be the catalyst to a highly-anticipated Ryder Cup debut at Celtic Manor in October. "My main goal is to play the Ryder Cup this year," said the 25-year-old who, on Nick Faldo's invitation, travelled with the Europe team to Kentucky. "When I went there two years ago I really felt I want to be there one day because it is so cool. Even though I wasn't playing, it gave me so much experience and it helped me so much."
Montgomerie will certainly be looking forward to having Kaymer in his team along with Poulter and McIlroy. Despite coming so close, Poulter was celebrating himself last night. It has long been his ambition to break into the top 10 and this runner-up placing has finally seen him join the elite. "It's a nice start to the season," said the new world No 10. "If you're going to take the positives out of that, I'm pretty frustrated that I've walked away from shooting that score and I haven't won. But it's good. I will move on next week in Qatar, have a bit of fun and see if I can go one step closer."
After failing to keep up with the electrifying start to the final round from his playing partners, McIlroy claimed an eighth top-10 finish in his last nine events with a surging finish. "It's a great way to start the year in the last group and going down the last one behind and getting the juices flowing again," said the 20-year-old, who has actually been bumped down one place to 11 in the world rankings. "It was a nice feeling and hopefully that will set the tone for the rest of the season."
Kaymer would doubtless say amen to that. At the start of the week, he raised a few eyebrows by revealing that he still has plates and screws in the foot injury he sustained in a go-karting accident last year. "I can still feel them in there," he said yesterday. "And I could have them removed now. But I don't want to risk having to have two or three weeks off. I shall leave them in until December." This exemplifies the steel of the young man; as do the five Tour titles which have established him as one of the great hopes of European golf.
There is little doubt he would have been on Faldo's team in 2008 if he had not suffered a personal tragedy. His mother died of cancer and, understandably, his career stalled. Last year he showed he was back on track with his back-to-back victories at the French and Scottish Opens. But then came the accident and his money list hopes were ruined. Here yesterday he relaunched his charge to the top yet again. German golf at last has the successor to Langer.