PINEHURST — Just to the right of the practice area at Pinehurst No. 2 is a set of train tracks.
There is no truth they will be used by what became known as the Martin Kaymer Express this week.
Kaymer claimed his second major championship with a wire-to-wire victory at the 114th U.S. Open after shooting a 1-under 69 finish at 9 under par for the tournament. He won the PGA Championship in 2010.
Kaymer became the 17th player to win the championship after leading from start to finish and the first since Rory McIlroy accomplished the feat at Congressional Country Club in 2011. His 8-shot margin of victory is tied for the third-largest in U.S. Open history and Kaymer became the first German to win the championship. He also became the first player in win both the U.S. Open and Players Championship in the same year.
“It is very tough right now to reflect on the week. I think I played really, really well on Thursday and Friday and that gave me a really nice cushion,” Kaymer said. “I said to Craig (Connelly), to my caddie this morning, that this moment will be very, very difficult, probably the toughest round we ever played because of all the expectations that you have on yourself, and other people have. I’m sure Craig had the expectations, as well. So it’s very difficult to go through that, playing on a different continent. So to sit here now with the U.S. Open trophy is tough for me to say, I’m very happy.”
Unlike the other six players that started the final round under par, Kaymer was the only one to finish in red numbers on the day.
“The first five, six holes were very crucial for me to get off to a good start in the final round, not the way I did yesterday. And I was 1-under par after five holes, almost 2-under par, but I wasn’t,” Kaymer said. “So for me it was very important to stay five shots ahead, the way I started the day, that I stay five shots ahead going into the back nine. And that is what I did and so it was a very important birdie for me on 9.”
His closest competitors at the start of the day— Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler — were five shots off the lead. After posting identical 3-under 67s on Saturday, both struggled in the final round. The pair posted the same score again on Sunday, finishing with 2-over par 72s and tied for second at 1-under.
Fowler carded a double bogey on the par 4 fourth and was unable to recover to make a run at Kaymer.
“I knew Martin was playing well and he was going to be tough to catch. 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,” Fowler said. “That was kind of stopped quickly when I made a quick double there on 4. So I was kind of thrown behind the 8-ball quickly and kind of rallied back and kept moving forward. So unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get close enough to put any pressure on Martin, but it was fun playing alongside him and watching him, how he controlled himself throughout the day. Obviously he gave himself quite a big cushion after the first two days and kind of hung around yesterday. He’s a very deserving champion this week.”
Compton had five bogeys and three birdies in his second appearance in a U.S. Open and enjoyed the ride after making the field as a qualifier.
“I hit the ball really well this week. Today I hit the ball extremely well. I didn’t have my best stuff on the greens. I was watching the leaderboard, seeing what some of the guys were doing,” Compton said. “I knew we were playing for second. 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, really sweet.”
Five players tied for fourth— Keegan Bradley, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson — and were 10 shots behind Kaymer at 1-over.
Johnson had one birdie and four bogeys in the final round. He said he couldn’t find a rhythm during the week.
“I never got really frustrated. I was more frustrated with myself,” Johnson said. “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.”
One day after the course surrendered two under par rounds with a setup Kenny Perry called “18 of the toughest pins I’ve ever seen,” USGA officials were a little more generous Sunday. The scoring average dipped by more than one shot from 73.82 to 72.4.
Eleven players finished under par Sunday, including Daniel Berger, who shot the low round of the day, a 4-under 67. Berger finished 7-over in the tournament, tied for 21st and thought it was available for players to shoot low scores.
“If you hit it in the right spots it is. But U.S. Opens are tough, and the biggest key is hitting greens,” Berger said. “Today I hit a lot of greens, gave myself a lot of opportunities, and when you do that you’re bound to make some birdies.”
Bradley rallied to finished tied for fourth after shooting a 6-over 76 on Saturday, he fired a 3-under 67.
“Yeah, yesterday was brutal. Every single pin was tough on every green,” Bradley said. “I felt the setup today was really great because you could go out and shoot a number, but every pin is run off, could make double or bogey. So it was fun.”
Zach Johnson recorded the second hole-in-one in U.S. Open history at Pinehurst No. 2 on the ninth hole, while paired with Kenny Perry. The first player to accomplish this feat was Peter Jacobsen, who ironically accomplished the feat on the ninth while paired with Perry in 2005.
Zach Johnson credited Perry with an assist in carding his first hole-in-one in competition.
“If I would have had the honor there, I would have hit an 8-iron and I would have been short or off the green or in the trap,” he said. “Kenny hit a great iron, along the same line, and it landed — it was five yards short of the green. So I just held a 7-iron, tried to hit a high 7-iron, an easy 7-iron. I think I had 167 to the hole, probably playing 166.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.