By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Coolness under pressure, a strong work ethic and never-say-die attitude makes Germany's Martin Kaymer one of the favorites for this month's British Open, according to Frenchman Thomas Levet.
Kaymer will go into the year's third major at Hoylake with his status considerably elevated after his remarkable eight-shot victory at the Pinehurst U.S. Open last month but it is his unflappable temperament that stands out most of all for Levet.
The Frenchman, a six-times winner on the European Tour who came agonizingly close to winning the 2002 British Open before losing out in a four-way playoff, cited the example of Kaymer's penalty drop in the third round of the 2014 U.S. Open.
"That drop was absolutely brilliant," Levet told Reuters. "In a situation like that, many players would have lost the plot and probably tried to play that ball and who knows what could have happened."
Playing the par-four fourth hole on Pinehurst's challenging No. 2 Course, Kaymer took an unplayable lie after his tee shot sailed way left before ending up next to a pile of pine needles.
He then punched a low third shot down the fairway, well short of the green, struck his fourth to 15 feet and coolly sank the bogey putt before pumping his fist with relief.
"Martin took that unplayable lie almost with a laugh and just dropped his ball on the side, and he not only dropped it on the side but managed to make an up-and-down from 160 yards as well," said Levet.
"He made that hole look like nothing happened almost and it's a really tough hole. It was only a bogey for him and, in the end, it's on shots like this that he wins. He is very, very good under pressure, and I like his chances at Hoylake.
"He knows how to score the best in difficult situations," said Levet, who was beaten by Ernie Els on the fifth extra hole of the 2002 British Open at Muirfield after Steve Elkington and Stuart Appleby had been eliminated following four holes.
Kaymer went on to clinch his second major title with closing rounds of two-over-par 72 and 69 at Pinehurst where the firm and fast-running course, in many ways, resembled a British Open-style links layout for shots into the greens.
Superb course management all week by the ultra-talented and hard-working German set up a runaway victory as only two other players finished the tournament under par, confirming the rich potential shown by Kaymer when he first burst on to the scene.
Levet, who closely watched Kaymer's U.S. Open win at Pinehurst while working as a golf analyst for French television, first heard about the German well before he joined the European Tour.
"I was speaking about Martin with Alain de Soultrait, the director for the European Challenge Tour, and he was telling me about this German who was playing crazy golf at that time," Levet recalled.
"And I said, 'Okay, we will see what he does on the European Tour.' And then Martin comes in for his first year, his second year, he wins very quickly and gets through the rankings like crazy and goes to number one in the world.
"People knew about him long before he arrived on the European Tour. He wants to be better, he wants to improve. He's a perfectionist, after all he's German and they want to make things perfect."
Kaymer finished fourth in the 2006 Challenge Tour rankings after playing just eight events and winning two of them, the first coming on his professional debut.
He has since claimed 11 titles on the European Tour, including his first major crown at the 2010 PGA Championship, yet throughout his successes he has remained gracious, level-headed and courteous to everyone he meets.
"What people don't realize is how normal Martin Kaymer is," said Levet. "He is a very easy-going person and a very nice guy. But he loves playing golf and he is doing that maybe the best of anyone at the moment."
One example of Kaymer's character that especially stood out for Levet was when the German, who was struggling for form in 2012, sank a nerve-jangling six-foot putt at Medinah that year to ensure that the Ryder Cup remained in European hands.
"A career could have ended out there, he could have been destroyed by that putt if he had missed it," said the Frenchman. "But his career has been reinvigorated from there.
"He showed big nerves at Medinah and that helps build your nerves for tournaments like the U.S. Open and British Open. He hasn't got too many weaknesses and he has a lot of strong points so that makes him a very dangerous player in any situation."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)