- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Less than a month into his brief reign as the No. 1 player in the world, Martin Kaymer played a PGA Tour event in Florida all but anonymous.
To pick him out of the group of pros competing and name him as the best player in the world would have been a stretch for all but the most intense golf fans.
He had won the PGA Championship the year prior, and after finishing second at a World Golf Championship event, Kaymer ascended to the top spot in the world. Never did he ask for any extra attention, nor did he shy away from any fanfare.
But it felt, well, different.
He was No. 1 in the world in ranking only. A few weeks later, he would fall from that perch, never to return. At least not yet.
"I wanted to become a better player, and I didn't feel like the best player in the world, even though I was up there," Kaymer, 29, said Friday at the TPC Sawgrass, where he was atop one of the best fields in golf for the second day in a row. "So that's why I needed to change, to become more happy that I can do anything, whatever I need on the golf course, I can hit it. That's why I wanted to change. It was very necessary."
The change Kaymer speaks of now is one he has discussed on and off for the past couple of years, as his game hit those heights and then sunk back into obscurity. Yes, Kaymer won a World Golf Championship event later in 2011, the HSBC Champions. And he made the clinching putt for Europe at the 2012 Ryder Cup.
But there has been little else to celebrate for Kaymer, who in 2010 defeated Bubba Watson in a playoff at Whistling Straits to win the PGA Championship -- and hasn't won in America since.
The main reason? Kaymer felt he needed to make changes to his swing to improve.
"The simple way to say it: In the past, I could only hit left to right," Kaymer said. "Then I wanted to hit the other way as well, to add it to my repertoire. I did this, and now the normal shot is how it was in the past, but when I need the draw, I can hit it. Sometimes."
Laughter ensued, and Kaymer, who is from Dusseldorf, Germany, but has a home in Arizona, smiled. Things are better now. He's seen improvement. And his 63-69 start at TPC Sawgrass has him in control at the Players Championship.
But there is a long way to go, and although there has been steady improvement, none of his recent results suggest a victory is imminent. Kaymer doesn't have a top-10 finish in 2014, and the last time he finished in the top five was nearly a year ago, at the Byron Nelson Championship.
After hitting 17 of 18 greens on Thursday, Kaymer came back with a respectable 13 on Friday. He needed just 28 putts Friday and has made just two bogeys through two rounds.
Kaymer said he has become far more comfortable with the swing changes he made and tried to explain why it was so important.
"My natural shot is and always hopefully will be the fade," he said. "It's just important that you can hit any shot. And that's why I needed to. I needed to change.
"You don't need to be able to hit the draw. You can win once in a while. But standing here on the second tee and you can't draw the ball? Or on 16? When you are that young, how can you accept that you can't hit that shot?"
But Kaymer is not looking too far ahead, nor is he getting too exuberant about the way he's played of late. He is now 61st in the world, up slightly from his low of 63 since going to No. 1 more than three years ago.
"The goal is not really to become No. 1 again," he said. "That is three, four, five steps more than you should go. I take it step by step."
And the next step?
"Try to win the golf tournament first," he said. "I've had a lot of good finishes. The way I played golf, I was very happy the last four or five weeks, so the next step is just putting yourself in contention and hopefully winning. If not, it's OK.
"But as long as you put yourself in contention for the next few weeks, especially now we're coming up to the U.S. Open, British Open. So it would be nice to gain even more confidence, and if you sneak in a win here and there, it would be nice. If not, it's still good golf and good performances."
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