PINEHURST — Eight was enough.
It was way more than enough, really. What Martin Kaymer did Sunday, obliterating the rest of the U.S. Open field, ranks as one of the best performances ever at the Open.
Kaymer started Saturday ahead by five strokes and ended it ahead by eight. Only three players finished under par at this grueling event, and the other two, Americans Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler, were a modest 1-under par.
But Kaymer? He was 9-under par. On Sunday, everyone else was trying to win Best Supporting Actor. This tournament already had its star.
Here’s the short list of players who have crushed the field in this way at a U.S. Open over the past 50 years:
Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy. Martin Kaymer.
As Compton said after it was over: “I was playing for second. We all were playing for second.”
Or as Brooks Koepka said earlier in the week: “Martin seems to be playing a different golf course.”
Kaymer, 29, called it “quite a satisfying feeling” to play as well as he did. He said he was aware that some people thought of him as a one-hit wonder – he won the 2010 PGA for his first major – and that this offered “nice proof” he was not.
The weekend certainly lacked drama. Remote controls clicked off all around America for that mundane back nine Sunday. But don’t blame that on Kaymer, who led by a mile all weekend. What was he supposed to do? Lift his foot off the accelerator?
The U.S. Golf Association set the course up in a way Sunday that practically begged someone – anyone – to make a run at Kaymer. There were two par-4s that were driveable. The two par-5s could be reached in two shots and also gave golfers an outside chance at an eagle.
It wasn’t totally easy. But compared to what the USGA had done with 18 dastardly pin placements Saturday, the setup Sunday was much more likely to produce more red numbers.
So who benefited from the slightly easier conditions? Kaymer. He wielded his putter so much more fluidly than the rest of the field this week that even though he had a fairly off day driving the ball Sunday, he simply made it up on the back end.
“I enjoyed the greens,” Kaymer said. “I had fun on the greens … And there was not one part of my game where I thought that I struggled.”
He ended up shooting a 69. No one else in the final few groups could break par. “Just because you’re leading by five or six shots doesn’t mean you have to play defensively,” Kaymer said.
By the time he walked up the 18th fairway, the only way Kaymer was going to fall into a playoff with Compton and Fowler was if the German shot a 12 on the par-4 hole. An 11 or better was going to do just fine.
Kaymer made another putt and got another par. Then he dropped his putter and raised his hands, his wire-to-wire win complete. He called it “exhausting” to lead the whole way. But a couple of hours after the tournament ended he had recovered enough to predict a 3-1 win for Germany against the United States in the World Cup this month.
Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient from Miami, had the only real chance. He got to 4-under par for a while, then he had three bogeys in the final eight holes. Still, to tie for second at the U.S. Open was by far Compton’s most impressive performance, and it got him a spot in the 2015 Masters and a ton of fan support Sunday.
But Kaymer wasn’t about to be cast in Compton’s fairytale. Kaymer started the week with consecutive 65s, and from there he was going to have to give it away. He never even came close to doing so.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler