The 114th U.S. Open featured one of the all-time dominant performances at America's national championship. Martin Kaymer's eight-shot wire-to-wire win at Pinehurst will have a deserving place alongside Rory McIlroy's 2011 masterpiece and Tiger Woods 2000 tour de force. Colin Montgomerie said on Sunday night that he thought Kaymer's performance was better than that record-setting showing from Rory at Congressional, and the best we'd seen since Tiger at Pebble (which is the best golf and major championship performance ever). Kaymer may not be as accomplished or marketable as those two, but he's on a superstar path and this week could be the second of several more major championships.
Here's the best and worst from the week at Pinehurst.
This is a toss-up between Martin Kaymer and Martin Kaymer. His back-to-back rounds of 65 on Thursday and Friday set a 36-hole scoring record at the U.S. Open, edging that Rory at Congressional in 2011 by a shot. The Pinehurst No. 2 setup in the first two rounds was more benign than a typical U.S. Open, but Kaymer was still perfect from tee-to-green and with the putter to post the lowest U.S. Open round ever at this historic venue ... twice.
The first round was three shots better than anyone else, and the second was two shots better. There were some leaky iron shots on Friday, but he always made up for it around the green. Given where he already was on the board, that early morning round on Friday pretty much locked it up and put him up eight when he walked off the course. He'd win by 8 on Sunday night.
Everyone has a bad streak, but Toru Taniguchi started to lose it on Saturday and it just kept getting worse. Granted, the course was playing entirely different in that third round, brutalizing the field with a new wind direction and nearly impossible pins on 16 or 17 holes. But still, Taniguchi just got crushed:
That's a tidy round of 18-over, with four doubles or worse.
Perhaps the most important skill at a U.S. Open is recovering from the awful lie or blowup hole you know you're going to encounter. It's going to happen, you just have to deal with it or let it derail your chance at keeping things level par and in contention. On Saturday, Kaymer deflated the hopes of any weekend chasers when he made a ridiculous bogey "save" from a miserable lie at the fourth hole. After sending his tee ball deep into the right woods and it rattling around in the pines, he'd stroll up to find this ugly scene:
This was already a difficult and lengthy par-4, and this threatened to wreck his third round early and bring the field back into it at the start of the weekend. Kaymer couldn't get relief because that wash-out, a term he could not understand from the English-speaking rules officials, was not considered ground under repair. He had the option to move the pinestraw around because it's considered loose impediments, but if he did that and his ball moved, it was a penalty.
So he opted to take an unplayable lie, which a few analysts questioned, and triggered a one-stroke penalty. But from there, he'd hit three perfect shots -- a punch out to 160 yards, where he'd pull off an amazing up-and-down to slam the door on any chasing hopefuls. This was the turning point of the final two rounds -- the course was playing extremely difficult, and a big number early would have changed the entire weekend.
Phil Mickelson could just never get it going all week, mostly due to his putting, which he termed "pathetic" the week heading into his most important tournament of the year. The putting was poor, but his short game, one of the best in the history of golf, wasn't exactly sharp either.
That's a difficult shot to play up on the short side, but Phil had several chips and pitches that he could never get to stick on the turtleback greens. At the start of the week, Mickelson said the emphasis placed on short game because those greens spit so many balls off into pitching areas would be an advantage. But his work with the wedges never really differentiated himself from the rest of the field trying to get their ball to hold on the putting surfaces. Even if Kaymer didn't run away with it, Phil was not going to be a factor in a week and the narrative died early at what remains the white whale of his career.
You might think this should go to the only hole-in-one of the tournament, and just the second ever at a Pinehurst U.S. Open. But while Zach Johnson's ace was the highlight of Sunday's final round, the 7-iron into a receptive pin location at the 9th wasn't as good (lucky?) as Kenny Perry's amazing eagle hole-out from the 14th on Saturday. That shot came off the "native waste areas" in some hardpan and grassy junk, drew some 20 yards, and rocketed up the chute and into the cup. Given how tough the conditions were in the third round, and that hole, for me, the oldest player in the field had the best shot of the week.
This was another toss-up between Justin Rose's miserable chunk and Dustin Johnson's putting ... stroke? It's hard to call it that, as it was more of a slap at the ball. Shane Bacon said it was one of the worst strokes he'd ever seen from a pro, and it sort of exemplified the struggles the talented bomber was having all round with that club. And still, Rose's chunk was visually more startling. The defending U.S. Open champ barely made contact.
That's not his first ghastly chunk of the season, but certainly the most high-profile duf'd it moment. At least he sold it with the follow-through club toss.
As is the case at almost every tournament he enters, Miguel Angel Jimenez wins this category. For the second straight week, the Mechanic holed out for eagle. It didn't have the flair of dancing in the fairway, but the Spaniard sheathing his sword as his team was getting blasted by the Dutch in the World Cup had to bring some solace to his homeland. Right?
Oh, Sergio. Jimenez's countryman hit a poor chip shot but still caught some terrible luck when it landed squarely on a sprinkler head Sunday. We think we discovered the source of all his major championship misfortune.
Poor Sergio, he just can't catch a break.
Best Caddie Moment
There's always a little too much Father's Day treacle on Sunday at the U.S. Open, but Zac Blair calling his Dad in from outside the ropes to caddy the 18th hole for him was pretty cool to watch.
While Blair put his dad on the bag, Fran Quinn, the sectional qualifier who made noise on the leaderboard all weekend, had his son Owen caddying for him. He choked up after the round talking about how it prompted reflection on his own dad, who had passed away in the last couple years. Owen also got choked up when the two were finishing up the week on Sunday.
Worst Caddie Moment
Hunter Mahan's looper John Wood took full responsibility for the mix-up on the 18th hole on Friday, when his player and Jamie Donaldson hit the wrong balls. Wood apparently got up to the ball first after both players put it in the same general area on a blind tee shot. Mahan, Donaldson, and Donaldson's caddie all have culpability too, but this was just something that can never happen at the U.S. Open or any pro event at any level. It's rare and inexcusable at junior tournaments. The resultant two-stroke penalty took Mahan from playing on the weekend to missing the cut. Gah.
Best Payne Stewart Tribute
All Payne Stewart tributes are mostly laudable at Pinehurst, one of that venue's historic figures and most identifiable champions. This week, two of the game's top players, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose gave a nod to Stewart. Rose drained a similar putt at the some 18th pin placement that won Stewart the 1999 Open, and pulled off an impromptu pose that's commemorated in a Payne statue at the course. Rickie's was a bit more premeditated, but provided one of the better images of the week on Thursday.
The Open Championship, of course, set for Royal Liverpool in a month. That's the site of Tiger Woods' last British Open title, but it's unlikely the 14-time major winner is ready to go at Hoylake. Woods is still just chipping and putting, and last we heard, he couldn't bend over to pick up the golf ball. Even though he's doubtful to play, as always, Tiger is currently listed as the 7/1 favorite. Here's hoping he's back in early August for either the WGC-Bridgetsone in Akron or the PGA Championship in Louisville, but that's still a 50/50 proposition right now. We could be looking at a completely missed season for Tiger at the majors.
As for those we know will be on the course at the British Open, Martin Kaymer should be the favorite. The venue should look similar to the course he overwhelmed and beat down this week in the Sandhills of North Carolina. It will play differently, of course, but Kaymer can settle in to the firm and fast conditions. And they way he's gone wire-to-wire at the last two top events, the Players and U.S. Open, it's hard to see the German machine slowing down and not making a run at the Open in a month.