VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Martin Kaymer made sure that the final round of the 2014 U.S. Open on Sunday at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 would amount to little more than a victory lap.
The 29-year-old German, who grabbed the championship by its throat on Thursday and never relinquished his grip, continued the recent domination of golfers from Europe, who have won four of the past five U.S. Opens.
After a week full of clutch putting – his 110 putts ranked third for the championship – Kaymer fittingly rolled in a 12-footer for par on the 72nd hole for a 1-under-par 69 and a 72-hole total of 9-under 271 to complete an eight-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton, which tied the fourth-largest winning margin in championship history.
Just how good was Kaymer’s Sunday finale? The other 15 golfers in the last eight pairings were a combined 52 over par. Only 11 golfers, including Kaymer, posted sub-70 scores Sunday on a 7,349-yard layout that featured two par 4s that were drivable and several accessible hole locations.
Kaymer, the 2010 PGA champion, also became the first German – and first from Continental Europe – to claim the U.S. Open. He joins countryman Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters winner, as a multiple major champion. He became the eighth player to lead the U.S. Open wire to wire and is now one of only five players to win the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and The Players Championship, joining the impressive quartet of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd and Lee Trevino.
Once the final par putt dropped, Kaymer was congratulated on the 18th green by several PGA European Tour players, including countryman Marcel Siem (T-12), as well as LPGA Tour player Sandra Gal, who, like Kaymer, was born in Dusseldorf and will compete in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.
“I didn't make many mistakes,” said Kaymer, who had four birdies against three bogeys on Sunday. “The last two wins that I had in America, especially this week, I played very solid the first two days and that gave me a very nice cushion for the weekend. But to shoot only 1 over par [at] Pinehurst on Saturday and Sunday is good. The way I played I was very happy, the way I kept it together yesterday. And that gave me a good cushion for today.”
Kaymer took a huge step toward his second major on Thursday and Friday, when he posted the first consecutive 65s in any major championship to set a 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record of 130, besting Rory McIlroy’s total of 131 at Congressional in 2011. The six-stroke lead matched the efforts of Tiger Woods (2000) and McIlroy (2011), both of whom went on to win the championship.
Despite decidedly tougher conditions on the weekend, Kaymer never strayed too far from the tracks. Any mistake was covered up by another brilliant shot. Case in point was on Saturday when he took an unplayable lie after an errant drive on the fourth hole, only to convert a 20-footer for bogey. One hole later, he drilled a 202-yard approach from the sandy area to within 4 feet to set up an eagle 3.
On Sunday, Kaymer had a hiccup at the par-4 seventh, but then birdied the par-3 ninth, sticking his tee shot to 4 feet. He then bogeyed the par-5 10th, only to convert consecutive birdies at 13 and 14 from 15 feet.
“He's a guy that is really tough,” said Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA champion who played with Kaymer the first two rounds. “If you got him in a Ryder Cup match or coming down the end of a tournament, he's probably a guy you would rather not face. He's tough and he's very, very good.”
Four years ago, such a performance might have been expected from Kaymer. He became the world’s No. 1-ranked player for eight weeks and defeated Bubba Watson in a three-hole playoff at Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship.
But he began tinkering with his swing, trying to hit more draws, and his game faded. Outside of a clutch 1-up victory over Steve Stricker that clinched the remarkable Ryder Cup comeback victory for Europe in 2012 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, Kaymer quietly slipped out of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
He didn’t win on any major tour in 2012 or 2013.
The 10-time winner on the PGA European Tour broke through in May, shooting an opening-round 63 at TPC Sawgrass and held off Jim Furyk for a one-stroke victory at the weather-delayed Players Championship.
With most of the attention this week on six-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson trying to complete the career Grand Slam and Australian Adam Scott playing his first major as the world No. 1, Kaymer came to the North Carolina Sandhills decidedly under the radar.
Then he just ran and hid from everyone in the field.
“He kind of killed the event in the first two days,” said Henrik Stenson of Sweden, whose tie for fourth was his best U.S. Open finish in eight appearances. “And then it was more a question of if he would keep it under control. He held everyone off and then went out and played a solid round today. So very impressive and a very deserving champion.”
Starting the round five strokes back, Fowler and Compton, the two-time heart transplant recipient who became the feel-good story of the championship, never applied any sustainable pressure on Kaymer.
A double-bogey 6 at No. 4 by Fowler ended his chances. Compton missed a 3-foot par putt at No. 7 and despite making birdie at the difficult eighth hole – one of five on the hole on Sunday – the 34-year-old from Miami, Fla., lost any hopes of a late rally with consecutive bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12, and another bogey at 15.
“Today, I hit the ball extremely well,” said Compton, who got into the field at a sectional qualifier on June 2 in Columbus, Ohio, by surviving a 5-for-3 playoff for the final spots. “I didn't have my best stuff on the greens. I was watching the leader board, seeing what some of the guys were doing. I knew we were playing for second. I had my opportunities to put a little heat on [Kaymer] and I got it to 4 under, then I made a bogey [at No. 7]. But all in all, finishing second, the up and down I made on 18, just makes the whole week really, really sweet.”
For Fowler, 25, who has made some significant changes to his swing since working with instructor Butch Harmon six months ago, it was a second consecutive top-five finish in a major, after his tie for fifth at the Masters in April. It was also his first final pairing in a major.
“I felt really comfortable, which is a very good thing,” said Fowler, a two-time USA Walker Cup competitor. “The more experience you can get in the final groups, and especially in majors and [being] in contention at majors, it definitely helps out for down the road. With the way I handled myself and kept going through the process on each shot, there was only a handful of shots this week that I wasn't really prepared to hit and hit them without being ready to hit.”
It’s unknown if Langer, the most decorated golfer in German history, saw Kaymer’s performance. According to NBC, he was on a fishing trip in Alaska this weekend, but he did exchange text messages with Kaymer earlier in the week, wishing him well and encouraging him not to stray from his game plan.
The two now have three of the four major championship covered, with only the British Open missing. Kaymer certainly will be one of the favorites next month at Royal Liverpool.
“We have almost a German gland slam,” said Kaymer. “Winning the PGA [and] winning this one now, I hope it will make Bernhard proud. I'm sure it will make all Germany proud. It's nice that I could win [The Players Championship] on Mother's Day. Our Father's Day was already a couple of weeks ago in Germany, but I didn't get anything for my father that day, so maybe that works.”
The U.S. Open Trophy makes quite a gift.