DORAL, Fla. – Martin Kaymer is the new No. 1 in golf and getting the same kind of respect another No. 1 once did.
Never mind that Hunter Mahan had a one-shot lead going into the weekend of the Cadillac Championship after stumbling with a pair of bogeys in the final hour of his second round Friday for a 1-under 71.
It was the guy right behind him who made some players take notice.
Kaymer opened his season with an eight-shot win in Abu Dhabi. He went to the top of the ranking by reaching the final of the Match Play Championship. And in his first start as No. 1., he eased his way to a bogey-free 70 to get within one shot of the lead halfway through this World Golf Championship.
“That’s why he’s world No. 1,” Rory McIlroy said.
McIlroy had a 69, and was two shots out of the lead. That’s not what concerned him.
“Even though Hunter is a couple of shots ahead of me, to give Martin a stroke lead is going to be pretty tough to sort of keep up with him,” McIlroy said.
The 26-year-old “Germanator” is starting to establish a presence on the leaderboard, much like Tiger Woods did for so many years.
For now, Woods is having to settle for middle of the pack.
Mahan, who has played beautifully for two days on the Blue Monster and was at 9-under 135, had a four-shot lead on the back nine until his long three-putt bogey on the 14th and a poor tee shot that led to bogey on the 16th. That cost him a cushion, but not the lead.
He will be in the final group with Kaymer. Francesco Molinari, going for his second World Golf Championship, had a 68 and joined Kaymer at 8 under.
“I hit a lot of good shots, just didn’t finish as strong as I would have hoped,” Mahan said. “But I’m pretty happy with where I am.”
Mahan’s finish brought so many others into the mix.
McIlroy, Matt Kuchar (69) and Nick Watney (70) were among those two shots behind, while Dustin Johnson (69) and Adam Scott (70) were another stroke back.
Woods, a three-time winner at Doral, was not among them. Neither was Phil Mickelson.
Woods again struggled with his putter, missing four birdie putts inside 10 feet and looking bad at the end. A pair of 6-foot birdie attempts at the 16th and 18th holes never had much of a chance and he wound up with a 74, nine shots behind.
Even so, the lasting image of Woods will be a pair of tee shots.
He hit a smother hook with the driver on the second hole, which traveled only 122 yards – about the same distance he typically hits a sand wedge. Then came a pop-up on the 14th hole and a 188-yard drive.
“It’s pretty tough not to giggle,” U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said about Woods’ tee shot on No. 2. “We all hit bad shots. Hit a couple of those in my time. The guy is working on his golf swing, and every now and again, you have a few weird ones in there.”
When someone suggested he didn’t appear to be having fun, Woods didn’t look like he was having fun answering the question.
“You’re not going to have a lot of fun when you’re nine back,” he said. “I don’t know if a lot of people are very happy with that.”
Mickelson dropped three shots when he returned to finish the storm-delayed first round, including two shots in the water on the par-5 eighth for a double bogey that led to 73. He was slightly better in the second round with a 71.
McDowell called a penalty on himself when he noticed the ball move during his putting stroke on the ninth. That gave him a 73
Woods and Mickelson will be paired Saturday, the first time they have ever been in the same group for three straight rounds. They could be just a warmup act, however, being so far out of contention.
Mahan had a chance to beat Kaymer at the Match Play until losing a late lead.
“It’s quite impressive, his run,” Mahan said. “He seems mentally tough and I think that’s what separates him. And he’s a great putter. But he’s playing great. He’s actually winning, and that’s what sets the good players and great players apart.”
A dozen players were separated by four shots going into the weekend, including defending champion Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.
Kaymer had to play eight holes in surprisingly cold weather – so cold that Mahan donned a ski cap in Miami – and shot 66. He was steady in the afternoon, never a serious threat to chase down Mahan, just hanging around.
It was the work of a No. 1 player, and one that doesn’t figure to relinquish it any time soon.
“Especially after the PGA Championship, a lot of people thought that this may be the end of my career, especially in Germany,” he said. “For me, it was very important that I keep winning. Of course, I’m happy and I’m very satisfied. But it’s not the final satisfaction.”
It was tough for Ryo Ishikawa, Yuta Ikeda or Hiroyuki Fujita to take much satisfaction out of whatever they did. The three Japanese players in the field struggled with news of the devastating earthquake at home.
Ishikawa at least was able to contact his family just northwest of Tokyo before resuming his first round in the morning, and he shot a 65 to trail Mahan by one. The afternoon was a struggle, mostly because of the wind, and Ishikawa shot 76.
“I received a communication from my father, and the message was, ‘Focus on your golf, we are fine, do what you need to do,’” Ishikawa said. For the second round, he said, “It was simply that the Blue Monster decided to be what it’s known to be.”