There's never been so much uncertainly surrounding the world's No. 1-ranked player's ability to contend in the Masters Tournament as there is this year.
Germany's 26-year-old Martin Kaymer, who is in his sixth straight week as the world's No. 1 player, understands.
Since the Official World Golf Ranking was created April 6, 1986, the No. 1 players the week of the Masters have been former or eventual champions (Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods) or other stars like Greg Norman, a three-time Masters runnerup.
He's never made a cut in his three Masters appearances. And he's 12-over-par for his six rounds. He missed the cut by a shot in 2008 and by two strokes in both 2009 and 2010.
"If you miss the cut three times, then I think it cannot get really worse," said Kaymer, explaining why he changed his pre-Masters playing schedule by dropping the Houston Open before this week's Masters.
In the past year Kaymer's won five times, including late January's Adu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship by eight shots. He also won the European Tour's Race to Dubai (leading money winner) in 2010.
Kaymer has worked on adding a draw (a right-to-left shot) to his shot selection just for Augusta National Golf Club's dogleg left holes such as Nos. 2, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 14. He's hoping it will help him get in four rounds this year.
"I did it in the practice round today (Tuesday) and it worked out well," Kaymer said of his draw. "So I don't see a reason why I shouldn't try it on Thursday or the other days. Hopefully, on the weekend, too."
Kaymer is surprised to be at the top of the ranking at his age, but he's enjoying it, especially this week.
After he finished second at the Match Play Championship on Feb. 27 to take over the No. 1 spot, "I thought it would be quite nice to tee it up in Augusta as the No. 1 in the world," he said. "I wouldn't say it's important, but it's a nice feeling."
He's aware his stretch at No. 1 could end after this week. Five of the top seven players - No. 2 Lee Westwood, No. 3 Phil Mickelson, No. 4 Luke Donald, No. 5 Graeme McDowell and No. 7 Tiger Woods - would be No. 1 with a victory this week. The only one who can't is Paul Casey, who is ranked sixth.
"If they do well, they should be No. 1," Kaymer said.
Kaymer's new-found status as king of the hill has been noted by Augusta National.
In Thursday's first round, he's onthe tee in a 10:19 a.m. pairing with Westwood and Matt Kuchar, who is No. 10 in the world. It's the second year in a row Kuchar has played the opening two rounds with the No. 1 player - he was in Woods' group last year.
Kaymer and the rest of the 99-player field realize that the "spring training" portion of the pro golf schedule is over now that the Masters - the first of four major championships each year - is here. The U.S. Open follows in June, the British Open in July and the PGA Championship in August.
"Things get serious from now for the next couple of months," said Englishman Justin Rose.
Just ask Woods, the four-time Masters champion who hasn't won at Augusta National since 2005. More to the point, he hasn't won anything in the past 16 months as he tries to rebound from a scandal, and works his way through a the third swing change since he turned pro in 1996.
Woods, who has dropped to seventh in the ranking, had his game face on Tuesday, especially when a reporter asked, "Have we seen the best of Tiger Woods?"
"No," Woods shot back.
Woods, who has 71 career victories on the PGA Tour, was asked to elaborate.
"I believe in myself," he said. "There's nothing wrong with believing in myself. That's the whole idea, that you can always become better."
Kaymer's chances of winning seem so unlikely that during an interview in the Media Center on Tuesday, more questions were asked about who he thinks will win the Masters than the state of his game.
One variation on that question came when he was asked who did he see as the more dominate player at Augusta: Woods or Mickelson, the defending champion?
"I think Phil," Kaymer said. "I think especially after last week, the way he won (16-under on the weekend in the Houston Open). So I think he has good chances again."
Kaymer also likes Mickelson over Woods because as a left-handed golfer, Mickelson "can fade the ball all day long on the golf course, that's helps."
Told of the German's comments, Mickelson later joked, "I would love Martin Kaymer to play the golf course left-handed."
Nick Watney, one of the top Americans in the field who is ranked 14th in the world, believes Kaymer and Mickelson are "equally dominate" at Augusta National.
"Phil obviously as of late, and Tiger early," Watney said. "That's kind of like that's 1-A and 1-B. I would have a really hard time picking one or the other."
Kaymer likes Luke Donald, who beat him 3 and 2 in the finals of the Match Play Championship in February, as his favorite to win this week.
"The way he played against me in the Match Play, and his short game is unbelievable," Kaymer said. "I think obviously he's not the longest, but he's very straight and his short game is fantastic."
Kaymer said he asked Donald how he got his short game at such high of a level.
"He said, "‘Don't know.' I said, ‘OK, I understand.'"
"Just hard work," Donald said Tuesday afternoon when told of Kaymer's remarks. "I believe in the fundamentals my swing coach Pat Goss, teaches and I'm very conscious about working on those fundamentals. There's no real trick to it; just putting in the time."
After an 11-week offseason break, Donald has played four times this season - a win in the Match Play, a tie for sixth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, a tie for 10th in the Honda Classic and a missed cut in his first event back, on Feb. 17.
"I would have been a little more nervous coming into this week if I hadn't played well in those four weeks," Donald said. "I'm playing well; I've got a lot of confidence.
"I need to go out there and not get in my own way," he said. "And stay away from big numbers, which you can find around here, and take advantage of the par-5s. I need to hole some putts and putt like I do usually every week. If I can make a few more putts and birdies, I think I'll be in good shape."
Donald was among the players who braved the cool temperatures and blustery winds Tuesday for a practice round, even if it was just nine holes.
"It's soft and I don't think they mowed the fairways because it was so wet," Donald said of the course. "The rough is a little bit lusher, the fairways are lusher and the greens are not as fast. It's certainly not going to be like that on Thursday."
Because of the conditions, Mickelson scratched his scheduled Tuesday practice round and moved it to today.
So did Donald get anything out of playing the course under those conditions on Tuesday?
"You get familiarity by just playing the course," Donald said. ‘You still learn stuff. It's not going to be the same, but at least I've played her a few years and I know what to expect."
With a favorable weather forecast for the tournament days, will the winning score approach the 16-under 272 that Mickelson shot last year - tying Woods for the second lowest winning score since 2001. Woods set the tournament record 270 in 1997.
"What do the green jackets want?" McDowell asked. "Do they want even par to win it or 15-under?"
"The golf course is in absolute perfect golf shape," Woods said. "It will be pretty neat come tournament time when this place dries out just a little bit. It will play long and I'm sure the greens will get up to speed. With the wind drying it out, it's going to be one heck of a test this week."