PINEHURST, N.C. — Once again the US Open champion at Pinehurst No. 2 played short of the 18th green after missing the fairway, chipped on, and made a 15-foot putt, from a similar spot, to the same back-right hole location.
There were flashbacks to Payne Stewart’s 1999 victory all week, up until the tournament’s final stroke. But over time, there won’t be many comparisons to the 2014 masterpiece painted by Martin Kaymer. Instead of holing that par putt at No. 18 to win by one breathtaking shot, as Stewart did, Kaymer faced no pressure, no consequence to missing, no 18-hole playoff waiting the next day if the ball didn’t disappear.
Kaymer could have missed, and missed again, and again, and again. Such was the enormity of the lead he had built over the first 71 holes. It allowed him to truly enjoy the 72d, knowing that victory was well in hand. It became official on Sunday, but began to sprout on Thursday, when he opened with a 65 and led by three shots. Nowhere in between did it look like Kaymer would do anything but what he did: Dominate a world-class field with a record-setting performance.
He led by a record six shots at the halfway point after another 65, and by five shots through three rounds, shooting his only over-par score of the tournament, a 72. Still in charge, though.
Kaymer promised he wouldn’t play defensive in the final round, and he didn’t. He kept pushing, and pushing, until there was no reason to push anymore because there was no more golf left to play. Kaymer had secured his baby, a second major championship.
“Well, it’s quite tough to put it into words right now. What should I say? Very happy,” Kaymer said.
When asked on Friday how big a win at the US Open would play back home in Germany, Kaymer put a time limit on it, based on Germany’s noon game on Monday in the World Cup. Considering that he polished off his eight-shot win on Sunday before 8 p.m., he’ll have about 16 hours to be the toast of the country.
The way Kaymer played for four days — three rounds in the 60s, including a final-round 69, and a total of 9 under par — he might find the accolades lasting a whole lot longer in this country. With a wire-to-wire Father’s Day win at the US Open following his wire-to-wire Mother’s Day win at the Players Championship, Kaymer is quickly becoming the face of golf played in the US.
And that doesn’t even include his 2010 win at the PGA Championship, or the winning point he delivered for Europe two years ago in Chicago at the Ryder Cup.
“I would say it was probably the toughest day that I played golf today, especially the first nine. Because if you have two or three Americans chasing you, playing in America, it’s never easy being a foreigner,” said Kaymer, who finished eight shots ahead of Americans Rickie Fowler (72) and Erik Compton (72), the only two others to complete 72 holes under par. “If you lead by five shots, it’s not easy. A lot of people think, well, you have a little bit of a cushion, but if you approach that day in that way, with that attitude, it can be gone so quickly. For me, the challenge was to keep going, to stay aggressive, make birdies, go for some flags, and don’t hold back.”
He was a man of his word, taking driver out at the par-4 third hole and driving the green for the second time in three days, leading to an easy two-putt birdie. He added another birdie at the ninth to push his lead to six, and back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13-14 put him eight shots clear. That was more than enough to comfortably get to the house.
“I wasn’t able to get close enough to put any pressure on Martin, but it was fun playing alongside him and watching him, how he controlled himself throughout the day,” said Fowler, whose tie for second is his best finish in a major championship, as is Compton’s. “He gave himself quite a big cushion after the first two days and kind of hung around [Saturday]. He’s a very deserving champion.”
Kaymer has climbed the mountain before, using his first major title at the 2010 PGA as a rung in the ladder that placed him at the top step, as the world’s top-ranked golfer. For most, it’s harder to stay at No. 1 than it is to get there, and Kaymer was no exception, dropping as low as No. 63 earlier this year. Aside from the Ryder Cup-winning putt, Kaymer hadn’t done much since winning at Whistling Straits. In the span of five weeks, that’s all changed.
“It shouldn’t sound cocky or arrogant, but I knew it would come. I knew that I would play good golf again. There was enough belief there,” Kaymer said. “I just didn’t think it would take me that much time to get back.
“I think I play better golf now, I’m more of a complete player. It was just a matter of time. It’s not a huge surprise to me that I played good golf, it’s just a surprise that I won such big tournaments. That’s a surprise. But I’ll take it.”
Kaymer went out on Thursday and took it, not letting anyone else get close enough the rest of the way to get a good look at the trophy, much less a grip. He’s played his way into golf history now, a US Open winner at Pinehurst, even if it won’t lead the news for very long back home. Germany-Portugal starts in a few hours.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer