DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Martin Kaymer got the best of Graeme McDowell in their battle for the European money title Thursday, shooting a 5-under 67 to take a five-shot lead over his rival after the first round of the Dubai World Championship.
Kaymer was two strokes behind leader Robert Karlsson, whose 65 matches last year’s lowest opening round. The 41-year-old Swede held a one-shot lead over 19-year-old South Korean Noh Seung-yul. Several players, including No. 1 Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, were at 3 under.
The 25-year-old Kaymer’s only challenger for the Order of Merit title is Northern Ireland’s McDowell, who struggled for much of the day on his way to a 72. McDowell bogeyed the ninth, 11th and 12th holes before steadying his game with two late birdies.
Kaymer can claim the money title and a $1.5 million bonus by finishing higher than McDowell. McDowell can overtake the German by winning the tournament or ending up alone in second, as long as Kaymer finishes no higher than a tie for third. If McDowell is tied for second, Kaymer could afford to finish as low as sixth.
“I’m very happy, good start – 67 is a great round,” Kaymer said. “I played solid golf. My putting felt good.”
Kaymer, known for his big hitting and quiet demeanor, said he was able to focus on his game rather than the battle with his playing partner McDowell after he raced out to a three-shot leader after three holes, capped by an eagle on the third when he holed out from 197 yards.
“I was 3 under after three holes. He was level par. So those things helped me to focus more on my game,” Kaymer said. “If it would have been the other way around, I don’t know how I would have reacted, but that definitely helped. And I think you always have to remind yourself why you are here, to win the golf tournament and get back to the basics and try to avoid to focus on different things than your own game.”
McDowell, who had come in brimming with confidence and saying he relished the head-to-head format, was left wondering how he slipped behind so early in the tournament.
“Obviously it was a tough day because Martin gets out of the traps early … and kind of left me in the dust, literally, out there,” he said. “I was kind of struggling to get things going a little bit and a couple of careless 3 putts around the turn. I 3-putted 9 and 11 and 12 and things seemed to be getting away from me a little bit.”
But McDowell did take some consolation with the way he recovered on the back nine.
“I was happy to dig in coming in and make a couple of birdies, and I certainly didn’t play myself out of the tournament today,” he said. “There were some good scores and it was a tricky day. Like I say, I didn’t play myself out of it. I need a big weekend from here.”
The day’s unlikely leader was Karlsson, whose only tournament victory this year was in Qatar and who admitted afterward that his confidence was not good coming into the tournament. In his last outing in Singapore, he finished 115th, and before that 34th in China.
Karlsson’s day started with a bogey, but he reeled off eight birdies and an eagle after that. He was strongest on the back nine, where he birdied two of the last three holes and had an eagle on the 14th after he hit a huge drive and then chipped in from about 114 yards.
“I think it’s one of those courses, when you’re playing well, it’s easy to get close to the pins because they sort of feed to the pins very often,” Karlsson said. “But if you’re off the sort of bowls of the pins, it’s very difficult to set yourself. So I think that’s why my score today was a bit like that. Made a lot of good stuff and when I missed it, it was difficult to save myself.”