That changed yesterday, as the 29-year-old German claimed the U.S. Open, his second major title in less than four years, outperforming final-round partner Fowler by eight shots and just about every other player in the field by much more.
Before the age of 30, Kaymer now has two major titles, along with wins at the U.S. PGA Tour’s Players Championship and a World Golf Championship event. He has also held the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, joining Tiger Woods and current world No. 1 Adam Scott as the only players to combine those resume titles.
“To win one major is already very nice, but to win two means a lot more,” Kaymer said. “Some friends, they called me one-hit wonder with the majors, obviously in a funny way, and now I can go back and show them this one.”
Even the game’s more highly touted players, including McIlroy, a two-time major winner who captured the 2011 U.S. Open by eight shots at Congressional Country Club, couldn’t help but praise Kaymer’s precision at Pinehurst.
“I think it’s nearly more impressive than what I did at Congressional,” said McIlroy, a 25-year-old Northern Irishman who only broke par in one round at Pinehurst and finished tied for 23rd at 6 over. “He’s a hard worker and it’s always great to see your work paying off. Good to see him back where he belongs.”
Kaymer’s 9-under-par total of 271 -- the second-lowest total in U.S. Open history behind McIlroy’s 268 -- came on a course that had been completely redone since the last time it hosted the U.S. Open in 2005. About 40 acres of thick Bermuda rough was removed from the edges of the fairways as part of a $2.5 million renovation. With less grass, less water is used to maintain the course, leaving it dry and brown around the edges.
While the changes, which included the creation of “natural areas” of sand and brush to replace rough, drew criticism from some golf observers who said it appeared to be a local public course, only three players finished the tournament under par.
“They prepared the course beautifully for us and it was a good, fair test,” Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters Tournament winner, said after finishing tied for ninth at 2 over. “You had to play some pretty good golf to shoot a good score. It was the most generous week of a U.S. Open off the tee ever. Those were the biggest fairways you’ll get.”
Kaymer is the second German-born player with two major titles, joining Bernhard Langer, winner of the 1985 and 1993 Masters Tournaments.
“We have almost a German Grand Slam,” Kaymer said. “We’re only missing the British Open.”
After winning the 2010 PGA Championship in a playoff at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, Kaymer began to change his swing in an attempt, he said, to be able to hit a wider variety of shots. After ranking No. 1 in 2011, he fell to 61st as recently as six weeks ago. During the changes, Kaymer said he remained confident they would pay off.
“It shouldn’t sound cocky or arrogant, but I knew it would come,” he said. “I knew I would play good golf again. I just didn’t think it would take that long. It’s not a huge surprise to me.”
In order to claim victory, Kaymer also had to contend with a Pinehurst gallery that was clearly supporting Fowler and other Americans early on. It was similar to what Kaymer dealt with last month at the Players Championship as he traded shots with Spieth, his final-round playing partner there.
“It was probably the toughest day that I played golf,” he said. “When you have two or three Americans chasing you, playing in America, it’s never easy being a foreigner. But the crowd was very fair.”
Kaymer began this U.S. Open with consecutive 5-under-par 65s to set the U.S. Open 36-hole scoring record at 130, making 11 birdies and one bogey over that span.
“It was probably the best two rounds I’ve ever seen since I’ve been playing,” 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, Kaymer’s playing partner for the first two rounds, told reporters.
From then on, the remaining players were all competing for second place.
“He kind of killed the event in the first two days,” said No. 2-ranked Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who tied for fourth at 1 over. “He went out and left everybody in the dust.”
While Kaymer slipped in the third round with five bogeys and a 2-over score of 72, it didn’t hurt him as he took a five-shot lead into yesterday’s final round.
He built on that lead with two birdies and a bogey over the opening nine holes. After a bogey on the 10th, Kaymer put his lead out of reach with back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes. After a bogey on the 16th, he parred his closing two holes, dropping his putter and raising his hands moments before his final putt fell into the 18th hole.
“It’s very tough to compare yourself to those legends,” he said. “When other people want to call me that, it’s fine. I’m just very happy.”
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