Last January I asked whether Rory McIlroy or Rickie Fowler had a chance to become the Best Ever. Both were long shots, but following their 2010 seasons I am willing to state now that neither fits the mold.
McIlroy did manage two 3t’s in the majors, but he was never close to winning the British Open after a disastrous second round of 80. At the PGA he finished a shot back thanks to a three putt on 15 and a par at the easy-to-reach par five 16th. A Jack Nicklaus or a Tiger Woods would have slammed the door shut. As for Fowler, he failed to win anywhere and did not contend in his two majors. So, while both are great young talents who should win multiple majors, neither has the makings of a Best Ever.
This year the question is who has the best chance to become the third best of the Modern Era (1958 onward) – that is to say, who can assume the third position ahead of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Tom Watson, each of whom has a solid case for #3?
It is possible the McIlroy could develop into a contender for the third position, but my top choice is Martin Kaymer. He got the major monkey off his back at age 25 at the PGA and his next win on the increasingly prestigious European Tour will be his tenth.
He has shown he can win in a variety of ways. As you’ll recall, He won the PGA in a playoff and with clutch play down the stretch. He’s won two other events as well in playoffs, including one against World #1 Lee Westwood. He’s also won three times in blowouts, his most recent an eight shot win last weekend at the Abu Dhabi against a field that included 11 of the world’s top 20 players. In route to the win he hit 86% of the greens and averaged 66.0 while the six other members of the world’s top dozen averaged 70.11.
Kaymer’s impressive performance enabled him to jump over Tiger Woods into the second spot in the WGR, and he’s now just a quality win (one with sufficient points) away from taking over the top spot (he trails Westwood 8.69 to 8.09). In addition, a case can be made that he is the best player in the world. In the last 53 weeks Kaymer’s won five times to Westwood’s two (one of which came in a 12 man field!). Kaymer also outplayed Westwood in the majors in 2010, finishing MC, 8t, 7t, W to Westwood’s 2, 16t, 2, DNP.
Kaymer has got the game and that icy cool demeanor under pressure similar to Nicklaus and Woods. He’s got age on his side and his first major under his belt. He’s got momentum, and he looks like a huge breakout star in the making as he is poised to become the Tom Watson of his era. Whether he will or not obviously remains to be seen, but he looks as much like the next big thing as anyone in the game as the 2011 season unfolds.
Phil Capelle is the author of Tiger vs. Jack: Golf’s Greatest Rivalry