Martin Kaymer, the fluid-swinging German who's been the best player on earth the last year or so, has finally reached No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings. It's final, definitive proof that golf has entered the post-Tiger Woods era.
At 26, Kaymer is the second-youngest player to capture the top ranking since Woods did so at age 21 in 1997. (The rankings have only been in place since 1986.) But he was also the first player younger than Woods to pass Tiger in the rankings, which he did earlier this year.
And he did so with a simply astonishing game. He won the European Tour's Rookie of the Year in 2007, and since then he's won eight times on the European Tour, including three of the last four stacked-field Abu Dhabi Golf Championships. He captured last year's PGA Championship in a memorable playoff against Bubba Watson, and it was Watson whom he bested Saturday to take the final step to the Accenture Match Play finals and edge out Lee Westwood for the No. 1 spot.
"The PGA Championship gave me so much motivation and so much belief that I can win any tournament that I play," he said after Saturday's matches. "And I think the most important thing was that I kept working on my game, that I didn't stop. I didn't want to be, I don't know, just win once and kind of like you don't hear about me anymore."
Not much chance of that. Kaymer hasn't exactly backed into this top ranking. His ascension has more legitimacy, from a victory standpoint, than Westwood. The now-former No. 1, whose reign lasted just 17 weeks, was the beneficiary of Woods toppling off the side of the earth and Mickelson failing on a dozen occasions in 2010 to take advantage of opportunities to improve his ranking.
It's possible we're entering a new phase of golf, where the top ranking gets passed around a handful of players the way box-office grosses designate a new No. 1 movie almost every week. (That's been the situation in the LPGA for much of the post-Lorena Ochoa era. But it's just as likely that Kaymer will hold onto this No. 1 for a long, long time.
The one glaring flaw in his resume? He's missed the cut at Augusta all three years he's played there. He'll have a chance to correct that in about five weeks, and if he does, there's nobody on the immediate horizon playing at anywhere near his level.
As for Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and the other golfers who commanded the game for the 2000s? They'll win again, perhaps even capturing a few majors along the way. But they'll have to fight for every hole, and guys like Kaymer won't ever shrink in their presence again.
This is to take absolutely nothing away from what Woods and the others achieved during their heyday; golf is so competitive now that few players will come close to Mickelson and Singh's multiple majors, and Woods' 14 look virtually untouchable.
But for now, it's all about Kaymer, Watson, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and many other insanely talented younger golfers. We're in new territory now, and guys like Kaymer will be running the show from here on out.