Dubai - After struggling in Singapore and missing last week's Hong Kong Open, PGA champion Martin Kaymer is counting on a victory in this week's Dubai World Championship to clinch his first European Tour money title.
The $7.5 million season-ending tournament in the Race to Dubai series starts Thursday with the German leading Graeme McDowell by 290,911 ($395,395) and top-ranked Lee Westwood by 921,787 ($1.25 million) in the 60-player field.
McDowell, the U.S. Open champion, is the only other player who could catch the 25-year-old Kaymer. McDowell could capture the title by winning the tournament or ending up alone in second as long as Kaymer finishes no higher than a tie for third. A tie for second means Kaymer could finish as low as sixth.
Kaymer, who skipped the Hong Kong Open to rest up for Dubai, called this week "the biggest of my career so far" and said winning would complete three goals he set for himself to win a major, win the Ryder Cup and become the No. 1 golfer in Europe.
"So two-thirds are done and hopefully this week I can win the Race To Dubai and become the No. 1 in Europe," he said. "So then I have done everything in one year. It would be fantastic."
Kaymer knows he doesn't have to win the tournament outright but admits that he can't rely on McDowell to falter. McDowell finished fifth at the Hong Kong Open after closing with a 68 and has picked up his game in recent weeks. He claimed the winning point in the Ryder Cup and has since won the Andalucia Masters.
"I don't need to win but that is my goal," Kaymer said. "I can't rely on Graeme playing bad. I mean he's been playing great golf in the last few weeks."
McDowell closed the gap on Kaymer with his performance in Hong Kong and is peaking at the right moment.
"Of course, I'm within touching distance now and I've got to play well, simple as that," McDowell said in a statement. "I can't control Martin's golf ball, only mine. I'm going to go and play my own game and see what happens. I have a few things to brush up on but all in all I'm feeling really good about my game. I'm playing well enough to win."
Westwood, who has struggled with injuries in recent months and is still not 100 percent, cannot win the Race To Dubai. But he could muddy the waters if he plays even close to the way he did last year in winning the tournament. Westwood shot an 8-under 64 in the final round at the Earth Course to finish at 23-under 265 to become Europe's No. 1 golfer.
He could theoretically finish second this year in the Race To Dubai with a solid finish but acknowledged he would have liked the chance to defend his title.
"I'm disappointed, obviously," he said, adding that his No. 1 status has cushioned the blow somewhat.
"I can sit back and have a slight grin being world No. 1," he said. "I'm not going to lose sleep over it, but I would liked to have had the chance to defend the European crown this week. It would have made it more exciting for everybody."
Much as the No. 1 status has raised Westwood's profile, Kaymer said that more "people on the street recognize me" since he won his major and that he "gets invited to more shows, TV shows which is great."
He said that he hopes to emulate Westwood's climb which started with the top spot in Europe last year and then his replacing Tiger Woods as the world No. 1 a few weeks ago.
As for Woods, Kaymer expects he will be back "when he has sorted out everything" and said he would be no match for the man should he ever return to the form that saw him tearing up courses just two or three years ago.
"I think if people leave him alone a little bit, then I think he will play great golf again," Kaymer said. "I look forward to that challenge. You know, it's just nice to play against the best player in the world, in his top form, and then you can match yourself and see how you have to improve or how close you can get or maybe you get lucky one day and win."