PINEHURST, N.C. – They had been left without a whiff of hope as early as Saturday’s third round. But by Sunday evening, the competition in the 114th U.S. Open suddenly seemed pleased to discover that Martin Kaymer had left them some good cheer, morsels that they might have appeared.
Rickie Fowler found pleasure in his second straight top five in a major. Erik Compton basked in the glow of a weekend stage that earned him deserved acclaim. Brooks Koepka needed time to put his arms around all the boxes he had checked off. Even those who’ve known major championship success – Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley – stayed positive in the face of defeat and accentuated good thoughts.
Nice guy, that Kaymer. Puts a 65-65 hammerlock on his opposition the first two days, throws down a long bogey putt at the 40th hole then a brilliant 7 iron from 205 yards to set up an eagle putt to all but end things on the 41st, then keeps them on the mat with a closing 69. Yet no one could be mad at him; instead, they sang his praises and seemed to find genuine joy in this front end of the Pinehurst No. 2 experiment that reached the halfway point in good form.
Kaymer’s 9-under 271 was one for the record books, a dominating performance that rates more impressive than what Rory McIlroy did in 2011 at Congressional (16 under to win by eight, but it was a soft birdie-fest) and just shy of what Tiger Woods did in 2000 at Pebble Beach (12 under to win by a record 15). He got up by three after Round 1, built a six-stroke cushion through 36 holes, established a major-championship mark of 130 for the first two rounds, and emphatically went wire-to-wire five weeks after doing similarly at The Players Championship.
Added up, it’s the recipe for a Demoralizing Souffle, yet no one ordered it off the menu. Well, perhaps Henrik Stenson did, because he conceded that “halfway through the (fourth) round, it didn’t feel like there was any point in trying.” Having started Sunday’s closing round six behind, Stenson knew what his colleagues knew – that they were in dire need of a Kaymer collapse just to have a glimmer of hope. Instead, the 29-year-old German stuffed it inside of 6 feet at the par-3 ninth, turned in 1-under 34, and the engraver was free to etch away.
That he earned a second major championship before his 30th birthday was impressive, but it’s even more so if you factor in victories at The Players last month and a World Golf Championship in 2011, plus an unforgettable 8-foot putt to win the 2012 Ryder Cup for Europe. Bizarre to think Kaymer is ranked just 11th in the world when he’s playing far more effectively than that brief time in early 2011 when he was No. 1, but no one has ever suggested that golf must make sense.
What some did grasp was that the crumbs left by Kaymer include positive tastes.
Compton, for sure, was the feel-good story of the championship – a 34-year-old and two-time heart transplant recipient playing in just his second major championship. “Seemed like people really got around my story,” he said, and by closing with a gutsy par to finish tied for second at 1-under 279, Compton might have worn a brighter smile than Kaymer.
Fowler might have taken a backseat to his co-runnerup, but having finished joint fifth in the Masters, the undisputed “Young People’s Choice” likes where he’s situated. “The goals going into the year were to get ready for Augusta and then contend at the majors,” Fowler said, an acknowledgement that he can check both boxes.
For Koepka (281, joint fourth), a few more checks on his “to do” list, because he not only secured a 2014-15 PGA Tour card, but he earned exemptions into next year’s Masters and U.S. Open.
Bradley and Scott are major winners who weren’t exactly satisfied with their T-4 and T-9 efforts, respectively, but they did point to the positives. For Bradley, finally he found good form in a U.S. Open (previously he had finished T-68 and missed a cut), but more than that, he made enough of a jump on the leaderboard to push to 17th, from 21st, in the Ryder Cup standings. “I was nervous coming down to the end,” he said. “I’m not too worried about money or the finish; Ryder Cup points at this point (mean more) for me.”
As for Scott, the 2013 Masters win has only intensified his taste for these majors. He’s been T-3, T-5, T-14, and T-9 since last summer’s Open Championship. “I’m playing some of the best golf of my life,” he said, “(but) you just don’t roll up and win.”
Just try telling that to Kaymer.