PINEHURST, N.C. -- Don’t play defensively.
Martin Kaymer had been telling everyone within earshot that was going to be the key to winning the 114th U.S. Open, a tournament he’d led from the start. But before the final round at Pinehurst No. 2 on Sunday he huddled up with his older brother, Philip, in the player’s lounge. How, Kaymer asked, was he supposed to put all that big talk into practice?
“And my brother said, ‘It's very easy. I don't need to tell you anything more. You know it all -- you just have to let it happen,’” Kaymer said after firing a 1-under 69 to beat Erik Compton (72) and Rickie Fowler (72) by a comfortable eight strokes. “And it's that simple. You just have to do it. You have to convince yourself. You have to believe. You have to play brave.”
Thanks to a pair of 65s on the rain-softened course Thursday and Friday, Kaymer dominated this U.S. Open from the start. He led by three shots after the first day, six after the second, and five after the third.
“The challenge was not to think too much about that trophy,” said the 29-year-old German, who also won $1.62 million. “Not to think too much about sitting here now, about what you're going to say, how you might celebrate on 18 and those things, you know. It goes through your head, and I'm sure a lot of players feel the same way. Not many talk about it, but it is what it is. We do think about it. We are humans, and we're not robots.”
Keegan Bradley shot a 3-under 67, the second best round of the day, and Jason Day had a 68 to join a five-way tie for fourth place that also included Dustin Johnson (73), Brooks Koepka (71) and Henrik Stenson (73).
Kaymer is the first Continental European to win the U.S. Open, and the first man to win the U.S. Open and the Players Championship in the same season. His eight-stroke victory tied Rory McIlroy (2011) for the fourth-largest margin of victory in a U.S. Open, and his 9-under total was lower than every U.S. Open winner save for McIlroy at Congressional (16 under) and Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000 (12 under).
Kaymer is a more complete player than he was when he won the 2010 PGA Championship and ascended all the way to No. 1. He wasn’t prepared for the attention, and he certainly wasn’t prepared for the scrutiny that came when he tried to change his swing -- adding a draw to his arsenal after a string of missed cuts at the Masters -- and briefly got worse.
“Four years ago I didn't know what's happening,” he said. “I was surprised. I was not expecting myself to win a major at 25. I was surprised about my performance. I was surprised about a lot of things.”
This time around he was determined to avoid unpleasant surprises, to stay in control -- a word you hear a lot if you listen to Kaymer speak. Playing on Sunday in front of a gallery that included LPGA stars like Sandra Gal, Michelle Wie and Yani Tseng -- among the contestants for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst-- Kaymer gave special attention to the first six holes. He wanted to get off to a better start than he had in the third round (72), and to see a succession of quality shots, not surprises, coming off his clubs.
He achieved just that with a routine par at the first hole and a solid tee shot with the driver -- the club that had hurt him Saturday -- at the second. His ball wound up just off the fairway, and he overshot the green, but used his putter to come up onto the putting surface, then drained his par putt from roughly ten feet. He drove the 313-yard third hole for an easy birdie.
Fowler, playing alongside Kaymer in the day’s final pairing, left his drive in the front bunker and failed to birdie the easy third, then made a mess of the fourth hole, taking double-bogey. It was all but over.
“I knew Martin was playing well and he was going to be tough to catch,” said Fowler, whose resurgence this season includes a T2 at the U.S. Open and a T5 at the Masters. “I figured I would have to go out and shoot a couple under on the front nine and at least put a little bit of heat on him. That was kind of stopped quickly when I made a quick double there on 4.”
Compton, playing in front of them, came the closest to making a run. The two-time heart transplant recipient was knocking down pins and making putts, but kept following birdies with bogeys. He three-putted from inside 10 feet on the seventh hole and could get no closer than four back.
“I knew we were playing for second,” said Compton, 34, who earned $790,000 for his T2 finish. “I had my opportunities to put a little heat on him and I got it to 4-under, then I made a bogey. But all in all, finishing second, the up-and-down I made on 18, just makes the whole week really sweet.”
This was a U.S. Open in which the usual bold-faced names didn’t show up, either literally or figuratively. Woods was still recovering from a bad back and missed the tournament entirely. That left the spotlight to Phil Mickelson, who was trying to win his first U.S. Open after six career second-place finishes, and Rory McIlroy, who was trying to prove he is all the way back after winning the BMW PGA Championship three weeks ago.
Alas, Mickelson fought his putter, alternating between a claw and a regular grip, and averaged more than 30 putts per round despite praising Pinehurst’s “pure and perfect” greens. He hit just five of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens Sunday and shot 72. He never broke par in any round, finished well back at 7 over, and is still looking for his first top-10 finish of 2014.
McIlroy shot a second-round 68, but scores of 74-73 on the weekend left him 6 over for the tournament. He is still searching for the form that made him the runaway 2011 U.S. Open champion at Congressional and carried him to victory at the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah. Kaymer joined McIlroy as the only players in their 20s with multiple majors.
“I'm wondering how he did it,” McIlroy said of Kaymer’s sustained mastery over Pinehurst No. 2. “It's tough. I think I've made a total of nine birdies this week. It's like -- it's just, I don't see any more out there.”
Kaymer made 16 birdies and an eagle. His next start will be at the BMW International Open in his native Germany, June 26-29, and after that it won’t be long before the British Open at Royal Liverpool, July 17-20. That would be major number three, if his run of excellence continues. To watch Kaymer dominate at Pinehurst, you can’t imagine how he could lose.