Martin Kaymer trailed his European Tour money list rival Graeme McDowell by four shots as he began a challenge which could take him to the top of world golf by the end of the weekend.
Kaymer, who needs to finish in the top two to dislodge Tiger Woods as world No 1 after 281 weeks, had to settle for a one-over-par 72 that included four bogeys in the Andalusia Masters first round at Valderrama in southern Spain.
McDowell yesterday comfortably outstripped his playing partner and Ryder Cup team-mate Kaymer with an unblemished 68 that gave the Northern Irishman an early one-shot lead over the Valderrama field.
The German was characteristically unfazed. "It wasn't that bad a round and it's not the end of the world," the 25-year-old from Düsseldorf said. "I've got a lot to think about – not only being world No 1 but the Race to Dubai [the European money list title]. So it's important on this course not to give up. You have to stay patient and that's what I did after making three bogeys."
Should Kaymer not finish in the top two this week then Britain's Lee Westwood, still nursing a sore calf muscle and resting at home, would end Woods' long reign on top of the world rankings on Sunday night.
McDowell lies second on the European Tour money list but Kaymer leads him by more than €1m (£875,000) and the Ulsterman knows he has to come up with something spectacular to deny Kaymer that particular honour. "I need to have some strong finishes if I'm to catch him," McDowell said.
"Martin didn't have his best day today but he's never far from his best. Today I had a couple of key saves on the front nine. I think bogey-free is exceptional at Valderrama."
Kaymer, on the other hand, ran up three successive bogeys from the 11th yesterday.
If McDowell does pip Kaymer it will be his third remarkable feat of the year, alongside his maiden major title in winning the US Open and clinching Europe's nail-biting Ryder Cup victory over America at Celtic Manor earlier in the month.
His 68 yesterday earned him a one-shot clubhouse lead over his compatriot Gareth Maybin.Reuse content