The USGA could have packed things up for the men's national championship on Friday night in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Martin Kaymer, built on the back of his record-setting 130 strokes through 36 holes, strolled around Pinehurst No. 2 on Sunday and walked away with an eight-shot U.S. Open win. His final mark of 271 is the second-lowest total in U.S. Open history.
With the course toughened up on the weekend, there was no way Kaymer could approach those first two rounds of 65. But he didn't need to after matching the largest midpoint margin in the 114-year history of this event. The USGA made conditions particularly brutal on Saturday, but Kaymer did not relent and only dropped two shots and reduced the advantage to still five shots. If an implosion or meltdown was coming, it was likely happening in Saturday's third round but Kaymer just kept on churning, grinding out one of the great bogey "saves" after finding an unplayable washout lie at the 4th and then rolling in an eagle on the very next hole.
The weekend unraveling would have happened with that lie on Saturday, but Kaymer mitigated the damage to just a bogey and then totally deflated the field's hopes with that eagle on the very next hole.
U.S. Open payout
There was some spottiness on Sunday, but it was rare and none of the chasers, who included Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton, ever put a scare in him. The closest it ever got was four shots, and that was only for a matter of minutes. It was over when he went out in 1-under 34, with Fowler making a mess of the front side and Compton unable to put any kind of birdie run together on a typically tough U.S. Open setup that inhibits that kind of charge. By the time Kaymer got to the 17th tee, he'd pushed the margin back to eight shots and was on track to match that McIlroy masterpiece at Congressional.
Kaymer is just the 8th player to win the U.S. Open wire-to-wire with no ties, and just the third in the last 40 years. The other two to accomplish such a dominating start-to-finish feat are Tiger Woods (2000) and Rory McIroy (2011). That's the kind of company this showing deserves, even if Kaymer is not the same marketable or accomplished star.
2014 U.S. Open
2014 U.S. Open
Kaymer is now a full-time resident in the Phoenix area, but he becomes the first German and first continental European to win the season's second major. He said he'd been texting with German legend Bernhard Langer during his week at Pinehurst, and he's elevated himself into that kind of historic company at just 29-years-old. In the states, his first three official PGA Tour wins are a PGA Championship, a Players Championship, and now a U.S. Open -- three of the five biggest tournaments in the world and best fields of the year.
Four or five years ago, this kind of performance would not have been so surprising but Kaymer went wandering in search of a new swing in the intervening years from his first major, the 2010 PGA, to this title. He rose to No. 1 in the world, but for just several weeks and then started working on hitting a better draw (right-to-left shot), largely to compete at Augusta National. Kaymer hits one of the best high fades (left-to-right) in the world, and was already a major winner and had risen to No. 1 in the world. But the experimentation with the swing did not go well, and he completely fell off the map, rarely showing up on the first page of leaderboards and not contending on the Tour. The Ryder Cup clinching putt in 2012 added to his already impressive resume, but it came at a time when he was searching and not the all-world player that won the PGA in 2010.
Kaymer said he heard and listened to all the criticism as he struggled with the swing changes. Now, he's back in total control, winning the two biggest events in the world in the last two months to rocket back up the world rankings. Everyone else was in a "B group" playing a different tournament on a different course this week. He's still only 29 years old, and perhaps those struggles in between the last major and this one were worth it in the end. Because right now, he's a fine German machine who's going to be heard from again.