Commentary

Martin Kaymer working toward No. 1

Updated: May 13, 2011, 1:42 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- One person left the threesome, and all of a sudden half the gallery trudged off with him.

[+] EnlargeMartin Kaymer
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesMartin Kaymer birdied three of the four par-5s on Thursday in his opening-round 67 at The Players Championship.

That is what Martin Kaymer noticed as he and Matt Kuchar continued on the back nine Friday at the TPC Sawgrass with Tiger Woods headed home.

Kaymer, the highest-ranked player in the Players Championship field at No. 2, doesn't quiet attract the same crowds as the former No. 1 who continues to slip down the rankings.

Woods' knee and Achilles woes forced him to the sideline again for an indefinite period while Kaymer works to regain the form that briefly saw him rise to No. 1 earlier this year.

"It would have been nice to play with Tiger another 27 holes," said Kaymer, whose 5-under-par 67 left him in a tie for fifth, 3 strokes behind leader Nick Watney. "I just played with him once in Dubai [in February] for 36 holes, and obviously, when he's around, it's a little bit different and more people.

"With Tiger, there are more cameras, more media people inside the ropes, so it would be nice for me to get used to those things more often."

In truth, Kaymer appeared unprepared to handle the spotlight that comes with the No. 1 ranking in the world -- even though he's been rather anonymous for someone in such lofty territory.

After claiming the top spot after his runner-up finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (he had won earlier this year on the European Tour in Abu Dhabi), the reigning PGA Championship winner couldn't crack the top 10 at a tournament and missed the cut at the Masters.

It was the fourth straight year in which Kaymer failed to advance to the weekend at Augusta National, and the failure seemed to have gotten into his head as he was trying to make swing changes to adjust to the course.

A week later, Kaymer finished tied for ninth at a European Tour event in Malaysia, then fell to No. 2 when Lee Westwood won tournaments in consecutive weeks in Asia.

Yet here is Kaymer, 26, with an opportunity to go back to the top spot. Westwood is not playing, and Kaymer would need either a victory or a solo second finish coupled with Luke Donald or Phil Mickelson not winning.

While Woods was limping along, Kaymer shot 33 on the front nine, then added two birdies and a bogey on the back for his 67, the culmination of some tweaks to his game in recent weeks.

"I'm still working on it, but it was just a little bit easier today because I was working a lot the last two, three days on the range," he said. "I was hitting a lot of balls trying to get the swing going. I used the word 'changes' for my swing, but there are [more] adjustments.

"It's just something that I wanted to change anyways, and today it worked out fantastic. And I will keep working on it. One day, when everything gets together, then I will play very well."

That could have been a conversation Kaymer had with Woods, who has also been dealing with swing changes that are more significant. When Woods tied for fourth at the Masters, he looked to be beyond the mechanical struggles while swinging much more freely.

All of that has been put on hold with his injuries, which kept him from practicing again until Monday.

Now he's out again -- meaning no such conversation with Kaymer will be imminent.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com