PINEHURST, N.C. — Weeklong coronations are usually reserved for members of royalty or European countries celebrating World Cup victories.
Not professional golfers.
But on Sunday evening, amid the backdrop of a purple-red summer sky, here stood Martin Kaymer, relishing every chance to savor a US. Open championship that had been firmly in his grasp for approximately 58 holes.
And over there stood a decorated field of title pretenders — including a slew of elite-level golfers and seasoned majors winners — putting up little resistance to Kaymer’s show of greatness throughout the weekend, starting with his opening-round 65 (Thursday) and ending with a title-clinching par putt from 20 feet on the 72nd hole (Sunday).
On that final hole, the eminently relaxed Kaymer had long been enjoying the fruits of an eight-shot lead and a shoo-in second major championship. He was also basking in the reflective glow of being one of only three golfers to finish under par at the Pinehurst No. 2 course (along with Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler).
The kudos don’t end there. With this championship, Kaymer founded or joined three exclusive clubs in golf lore:
**Kaymer is the first-ever continental European native (Germany) to win the US Open.
**Kaymer is the sixth wire-to-wire champion in US Open history (Walter Hagen, 1914; James Barnes, 1921; Ben Hogan, 1953; Tony Jacklin, 1970; Tiger Woods, 2000/2002; Rory McIlroy, 2011).
**Along with Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, Lee Janzen, Tom Kite and the aforementioned Tiger Woods, Kaymer became the seventh golfer in history to win The Players Championship and US Open titles. (The Players tourney launched in 1974.)
"For me, the challenge was to keep going, to stay aggressive, make birdies, go for some flags, and don’t hold back," said Kaymer (round of 1-under 69) in the post-round media session, accompanied by the US Open Trophy. "And it’s very difficult to do, because at some stage you get a little bit tight and you want to — your body tells you, you know, you should take it easy.
"I over came that feeling, I stayed aggressive, and I played very brave. So I’m very proud of that."
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Was there ever any doubt Kaymer would be sitting in the winner’s circle (cash prize: $1.62 million) after 1 p.m. (EST) on Friday, upon rising to 10-under for the tournament — a time when the majority of Open participants hadn’t even teed off for Day 2?
Was it really just four days ago when Kaymer admitted — prior to the tourney launch — he’d be happy with an 8-over tally after four rounds?
And was it really just three days ago the 29-year-old posted the first 65 at Pinehurst in US Open history … only to subsequently promise the on-site press corps he could never replicate that low, low number the following day?
(Kaymer would be branded a liar on Friday, thanks to another scintillating 65.)
Put it all together, and it’s hard to remember any other golfer being a serious candidate for the 2014 championship.
Yes, Compton had momentarily sliced Kaymer’s lead to four strokes on the back nine Sunday — the result of the former netting birdie at the par-5 10th and the latter subsequently going bogey on the same hole.
But that might have been the shortest momentum swing in golf history. For over the next five holes, Kaymer (playing with Fowler) would trump Compton (playing with Henrik Stenson) for the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th holes … quickly erasing all doubts of a frantic and perhaps historic comeback.
"I hit the ball really well this week … I didn’t have my best stuff on the greens. I was watching the leaderboard, seeing what some of the guys were doing. I knew we were playing for second," said Compton, who collected three birdies and five bogeys during Sunday’s 2-over round (72).
Compton would have made for good copy as the unlikely champion, too. Not only did he finish under par in the second major of his career, the former Web.com tour product was also getting plenty of national attention for overcoming not one, but two heart transplants in his lifetime — at age 12 (1992) and age 28 (2008).
(Compton had been diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a potentially serious condition that involves inflammation of the heart muscle. Whoa!)
"You can’t ever give up. I mean, we all have adversity in our lives, some are different than others. Some are more major," said Compton, one of only two golfers to break 70 on Saturday (3- under).
"The up-and-down I made on 18 is an example of never giving up. I hit the world’s worst shot into the green and then got up-and-down. So when you have disabilities or you have health issues, some days are really bad and then you got to try to make the best of it the next day and wake up and move your body," continued Compton.
"And I’m a perfect example of that. I’ve been on my back twice, and I never thought I would ever leave the house."
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At best, Rickie Fowler was a long-shot pick to close the six-shot gap that lorded over him heading into Sunday’s round. Digging deeper, the odds of him actually stealing the crown from Kaymer’s clutches were long … and staggering.
All this begs the question: How does one develop a miracle strategy for the final round of a US Open, when playing with (and against) the prohibitive favorite? Did Fowler long to be aggressive from the get-go, or would he wait patiently for the precise, machine-like Kaymer to make a mistake — perhaps one of the double- or triple-bogey variety?
"I knew Martin was playing well and he was going to be tough to catch," said Fowler after his round of 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) on 4."
Kaymer (the only golfer to tally three sub-70 rounds this week) and Fowler both tallied pars in the opening two holes. Kaymer followed with a birdie on No. 3. Things imploded after that — just like Fowler referenced above — when the American posted a six at hole No. 4.
Interestingly, Fowler buried a long putt to preserve the double bogey at 4. If that moment had occurred during the Thursday, Friday or Saturday rounds … he might have used that character-builder as fuel for a breakout over the 14 holes.
Instead, the long putt on Sunday merely put a temporary happy face on a one-on-one matchup with Kaymer that was over before it started.
"(I have) only played (in) a handful of final groups, and this is my first one in a major," said Fowler. "The more experience you can get in the final groups, and especially in majors and in contention at majors, it definitely helps out for down the road."
For Kaymer, his down-the-road goals might involve the pursuit of a second major title in 2014 — a feat that has only been accomplished by six different golfers over the last 35 years (Padraig Harrington, 2008; Tiger Woods, 2000/2002/2005/2006; Nick Price, 1994; Nick Faldo, 1990; Tom Watson, 1982; Jack Nicklaus, 1980).
The season’s final two majors take place at England’s Royal Liverpool Golf Club (The Open Championship) and Valhalla Golf Club near Louisville, Ky. (PGA Championship).
In the short term, Kaymer may want to inform his dad, Horst, that Sunday’s US Open title technically counts as a "Father’s Day" present.
Referencing his native Germany, the younger Kaymer says, "Our Father’s Day was a couple weeks ago, and I didn’t get anything for my dad. So maybe that works out here."