No Forward Progress for Kaymer’s Pursuers
By Stuart Hall
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – When Martin Kaymer made it to 5 under par in the first round of the 114th U.S. Open on Thursday, he reached a figure that no one else in the field reached the entire week.
Consider that fact for a moment. Kaymer did in 17 holes what no other player could do at any point in 72 holes. The closest anyone got was 4 under.
After shooting 65 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2, Kaymer then essentially sprinted off and dared everyone else to catch him.
No one could.
Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton tied for second at 1-under 279, eight strokes back of Kaymer’s 9-under 271 winning score. When play began on Sunday, they were also Kaymer’s closest pursuers, five strokes back.
“I knew Martin was playing well and he was going to be tough to catch,” said Fowler, who was paired with Kaymer on Father’s Day and shot 2-over 72. “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 [bogey] there on No. 4 and [fell eight strokes behind].
“So, I was thrown behind the eight ball quickly and kind of rallied back and kept moving forward. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get close enough to put any pressure on Martin.”
Again, no one could.
Jason Day can relate to those players who were said to be in contention at various points throughout the week, but really never were, given the way Kaymer was playing. Three years ago at Congressional Country Club, Day shot an 8-under 276 score and finished second, eight strokes behind Rory McIlroy’s record-setting 16-under score.
“Winning a tournament is impressive, but winning it by a large number against the best players in the world, there's obviously no word for it,” said Day, who closed with a 68 and was part of a quintet of players who tied for fourth at 1-over 281.
Is it frustrating, perhaps, for those giving chase?
“No, I never got really frustrated [with Kaymer’s lead],” said Dustin Johnson, who shot a final-round 73 and also tied for fourth, a personal U.S. Open best. “I was more frustrated with myself. Finally got it in the fairway and then my irons weren't going where I was looking. But for not playing what I think was very good at all –I definitely didn't have my A game – I still had a really good finish and I'm very pleased with that.”
Henrik Stenson, whose fourth-place finish was his best in eight U.S. Open starts, was feeling more disappointment, especially after a closing 3-over 73 when the final-round field scoring average was 72.40.
“Not so much with the finish, more with the way I played,” he said. “I know I can play a lot better than I did yesterday and today. I'm not the only one who dropped shots. We know that much.”
At the beginning of this championship, Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, would have taken a 1-over finishing score and thought that would be good for a three-stroke victory. That was until he was paired with Kaymer and watched as the 29-year-old German set a 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record of 10-under 130.
“He played even better than that,” said Bradley, who shot a final-round 67 and also tied for fourth. “It was probably the best two rounds I've ever seen since I've been playing.”
Statistically, Kaymer did not carve up No. 2 in a way no one else could. He tied for ninth in fairways hit with 43 and tied for 18th in greens in regulation, nine fewer than Stenson’s field-leading 54. His 110 putts ranked third for the week and that helped to create his separation from the field.
“I played very solid the first two days and that gave me a very nice cushion for the weekend,” said Kaymer, who shot 1 over par the final 36 holes, including 69 on Sunday, and still won going away. “The way I played, I was very happy.”
U.S. Open champions usually are.
Note: Kaymer’s Pursuers Not Leaving Empty-Handed
Of the U.S. Open’s top eight finishers, Compton and Brooks Koepka may have gained the most in terms of their foreseeable future.
By virtue of their top-four finishes, both Compton and Koepka can expect invitations to the Masters in April. Compton tied for second and Koepka tied for fourth at 1-over 281.
“It's a dream come true,” said Compton, who advanced to Pinehurst after playing 38 holes, which included a 5-for-3 playoff in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, on June 2. “And to finish second and I'm in contention with guys like Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose, and I mean my name is in there, it is pretty neat. I won't really know the significance of what I've accomplished until I sit back and maybe watch the tapes and enjoy it.”
The other players who would receive a Masters invitation if not currently qualified under other criteria would be Kaymer, Fowler, Bradley, Day, Stenson and Johnson.
Adam Scott and Jimmy Walker, by virtue of their ninth-place tie, joined the U.S. Open’s top-10 finishers in automatically qualifying for next year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared on usga.org and usopen.com.