Kaymer's lacklustre performances deny him top spot
As we toasted the first occasion that the European Tour Golfer of the Year award was shared by two people, the continent's outgoing Ryder Cup captain posed the question of who would be the world's top player by the end of 2011.
Colin Montgomerie was speaking almost 12 months ago as Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer celebrated becoming the first joint winners of the Tour's most prestigious accolade.
Both men had played a massive role in a landmark year for European golf - McDowell with his inspired US Open win and Ryder Cup heroics, Kaymer with no fewer than four tournament victories including his first major, the US PGA.
Monty challenged those golf journalists and broadcasters sitting around the table at that celebratory lunch to name the man who would be world number one 12 months hence. There was unanimous agreement that it would be Kaymer.
Kaymer's three-shot victory at the Shanghai Open moved him into fourth place in the World golf rankings: Photo: Getty
This was the player who seemingly had it all - a stellar long game with a touch on and around the greens to match.
He was about to turn 26 and, within a month, the German won for the ninth time in his young career with a successful title defence in Abu Dhabi.
Before the first buds of spring could be found he was blossoming further by reaching the final of the WGC Matchplay, which was enough to take Kaymer to his appointed position at the top of the world rankings.
Everything suggested he would be a commanding figure at the head of the game and that he would remain number one for a considerable period.
He seemed so at ease with all that comes with being at the top of the rankings.
The only question was over how soon he would win again and whether that victory might come at the first major of the year, the Masters.
And this was the point at which Kaymer hit the buffers. To win at Augusta, the man from Dusseldorf believed he would need to learn how to alter his preferred ball flight from that of a left-to-right fade to a draw in the opposite direction.
It was a mistake and one that had him going backwards for the first time in his career.
As Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy were making big progress towards the top of the golfing tree, Kaymer was regressing fast from the moment he shot 78 in the first round of the Masters.
Throughout the meat of the season he did not genuinely threaten to win a strokeplay title, struggling to make the top 40 at the US Open, finishing 12th at the Open and missing the cut in his US PGA defence.
Kaymer's results were not calamitously bad but they were far from what he had expected at the start of this year, and it is only now he has won again that he is able to rationalise the frustration of much of this season.
"This year a lot has happened," Kaymer said on Sunday after claiming the WGC Champions title in Shanghai. "Many people don't realise what it takes to be number one in the world and you are just 26 years old.
"For me, my manager and my family, we were not used to that. A lot of people around me didn't know how to react and handle those things and then there was my little swing adjustment that I did.
"It was just a combination from a lot of things that maybe was the reason for not such a great season. But with this win here, I think it has now become a good season," said the man who rose back two places to number four in the world with what was his first World Golf Championships win.
"It was a little overwhelming all of a sudden being number one. I became so huge in Germany and more famous in America and everywhere you go more people recognise you.
"You have to understand I have not been on tour my entire life. It is only five or six years and being number one had only ever happened once to a German guy and that was Bernhard Langer, about 25 years ago.
"So it was a completely different situation that I had to get used to."
Now he has the air of a man who knows what to expect should he go back to the top of the golfing world and there must be every chance of that happening given that he has now rediscovered the art of winning.
Kaymer and McIlroy are the future of world golf and there is the potential for both to share one of the game's great rivalries. At 22, McIlroy is four years younger and he has three victories at tour level compared with the German's 10.
Kaymer has proved himself a brilliant finisher while McIlroy is still discovering the way of making the most of winning opportunities.
We were wrong with our prediction to Monty that Kaymer would top the year-end rankings in 2011 but there is every chance of that being the case next year.
Of course, McIlroy and the present incumbent Luke Donald will have other ideas but both know that their biggest threat lies with the man who has just won in China.