Coming into the WGC-HSBC Champions this week in Shanghai, Martin Kaymer was merely another solid contender in a very strong field at the Sheshan International Golf Club. But on Sunday, he played as well as he has in his six years as a pro.
Starting the day 5 shots back of third-round leader Fredrik Jacobson, Kaymer needed nine birdies over his last 12 holes to get his 10th European Tour win.
Jacobson, who shot a final-round 71 to earn second, couldn't keep pace with Kaymer, who shot a 9-under 63 on Sunday for a 20-under total and a 3-shot win.
"I just played really good golf, and I'm glad that it came together," Kaymer said. "The last few weeks, I played good golf, but it has not happened yet. And this week, it was nice that it happened here, the World Golf Championship event."
After four worldwide wins in 2010, Kaymer had the golf world in the palm of his hands, with all the pressure that went with that lofty position. With a win this past January at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, a great 2011 seemed assured for the 27-year-old Dusseldorf native. During an impromptu golf lesson that he gave me on the driving range during the Transitions Championship in March, shortly after earning the No. 1 ranking, he told me that he was ready for the challenge.
However, as a favorite to win the Masters, he played poorly and missed the cut there for the fourth year in a row. Then he had a tie for 39th at the U.S. Open and tie for 12th at the Open Championship at Royal St. George's. As the defending champion, he missed the cut in Atlanta at the PGA Championship.
But Kaymer's spectacular performance went a long way toward redirecting the focus back to golf after Steve Williams' racially insensitive comments directed at Tiger Woods on Friday night at an awards dinner for caddies in Shanghai. Williams' boss, Adam Scott, got within 2 shots of the lead early in the final round, but faltered coming down the stretch to shoot a 73 to finish in 11th place.
Though Scott will surely be pressured to fire Williams in the coming weeks, he tried to defuse the whole drama in a short statement after his third round on Saturday.
"Steve's put out a statement apologizing and that should be the end of the matter," the 31-year old Australian said. "There was a lot of language used and it's just this [comment] that was reported. I don't really think that stuff has ever left the room before and this is probably a good reason why. I think it's all very unnecessary."
Still, when the Australian Open begins on Thursday in Sydney, where both Tiger and Scott will be in the field, this controversy will probably continue brewing. It may not stop until Williams is either fired by Scott or formerly reprimanded by the PGA Tour and European Tour, which issued a very tepid joint statement shortly after the news of the incident broke in the media.
"We consider the remarks of Steve Williams, as reported, entirely unacceptable in whatever context," said a statement from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and European Tour chief executive George O'Grady. "We are aware that he has apologized fully and we trust we will not hear remarks ever gain. Based on this, we consider the matter closed, and we will have no further comment."
But on Sunday afternoon, the inner turmoil of a disgruntled caddie couldn't dampen the joy that Kaymer felt after pocketing the $1.2 million first prize and his first World Golf championship.
"It was an OK year," Kaymer said. "But now it's a good year."
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.