PINEHURST, N.C. — Blame Martin Kaymer for none of what played out over the past four days at Pinehurst No. 2, because he could only play the next round, the next hole, the next shot. In fact, he is due credit in abundance because whatever the pluses and minuses of Pinehurst’s new look and feel, Kaymer negotiated them far better than anyone else. That he made the U.S. Open a blowout is cause for celebration in his native Germany — and in golf in general — because he is a worthy player who now has his second major championship.
There was, though, a metronomic feel to this entire week, a tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock sameness that might have lulled viewers into a nice nap. Kaymer led after Thursday, when he shot a superb 65. He led after Friday, when he matched that effort. He led after Saturday by a whopping six shots, when no one could push him.
And he felt not a hare’s breath of pressure Sunday. His lead was never smaller than four shots and that only for a moment. The engraver for the silver trophy Kaymer held aloft on the 18th green could have finished his work at the turn and headed home without a worry.
The turning point of this Open came not with Kaymer’s consecutive birdies at 13 and 14 on Sunday but at 1:47 p.m. Thursday, when he arrived on the first tee and put his peg in the ground. To everyone else, his victory seemed inevitable. To him, not so much.
“The challenge was not to think too much about that trophy, not to sit too much about sitting here now, about what you’re going to say,” Kaymer said. “Not too much thinking about how you might celebrate on 18 and those things. It goes through your head. . . . We do think about it. We are humans. We’re not robots.”
Forget appearances, then. There is, too, a list of quantifiable superlatives to go along with Kaymer’s play. His closing 69 got him to 9-under-par 271 — the second-lowest score in the 114 versions of the Open, trailing only Rory McIlroy’s 268 three years ago at Congressional Country Club. His closest competitors were Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler, who each shot 72 and finished eight back — feeling a sense of accomplishment, if not true competition.
“Kind of fun to have our own little battle in the back of the pack,” Fowler joked, “for the second tournament.”
What does all this add up to? A romp, one that was worth an occasional look at the television screen just to check on things but was hardly riveting. There have been compelling annihilations in the Open, most notably in 2000, when Tiger Woods obliterated a Pebble Beach layout that befuddled others. The historic nature of watching one of the all-time greats dissect one of the sport’s most iconic venues still resonates. No one else has won by as many as those 15 strokes.
McIlroy’s destruction of Congressional, when Woods sat out with an injury, seemed historic in its own right and was the last wire-to-wire victory in an event that usually is replete with ebbs and flows. The Northern Irishman was only 22, and in a sport that is desperately seeking Woods’s replacement as torch-bearer, he seemed as likely a candidate as any — charismatic and creative, oozing with talent.
So what to make of Kaymer and this performance?
“To do what he’s doing is,” McIlroy said, reiterating his thoughts from earlier in the week, “I think it’s nearly more impressive than what I did at Congressional.”
This is hardly Kaymer’s breakout performance because he won the 2010 PGA Championship, rose to No. 1 in the world, then fine-tuned his swing so he would be more complete, slumping badly but making the clinching putt in the Ryder Cup along the way. At 29, he is directly in his prime, coming off a win at the Players Championship last month, a threat to contend in each and every major.
“Some people, especially when I went through that low, called me the one-hit wonder and those things,” Kaymer said. “So it’s quite nice proof, even though I don’t feel like I need to prove a lot [to] people. But somehow it’s quite satisfying to have two under your belt. And I’m only 29 years old, so I hope I have another few years ahead of me.”
Regardless of the final margin, he beat the best in the world. Look at that final leader board, but put your hand over the scores. Compton could scarcely be a more intriguing story, given that he’s living and breathing — let along playing world-class golf — on his third heart. Fowler is the most popular young player in the American game, his fashion thus far outweighing his accomplishment, but a known figure nonetheless.
On down the list, to the group at 1 over, tied for fourth: Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship. Jason Day of Australia now has five top-five finishes in majors. Dustin Johnson hits it a mile and might have applied pressure if not for three straight bogeys on the back. Henrik Stenson is ranked second in the world — trailing only Adam Scott, who was a shot further back, tied for ninth.
Put all those names at the top of the leader board at the beginning of the week, and there’s almost no way the Open couldn’t be enthralling. And yet when Kaymer stepped to the 18th tee, his lead was eight. Calling Jean van de Velde. No, not even the author of golf’s greatest collapse could have contributed here. When Kaymer approached the green, he needed no focus — indeed, he could clap back to the crowd that showered him with applause.
“I was in control,” he said.
The entire week. And when his final putt, a 12-footer for par, rolled toward the hole, Kaymer dropped his putter before it even reached the cup. It was just like the rest of the week — not particularly exciting but predictably brilliant. It settled directly into the hole, making him a U.S. Open champion in fantastic — if not fascinating — style.