PINEHURST, N.C. — Two days into the U.S. Open, it didn’t look like one.
No one ever began the toughest test in golf with consecutive rounds of 65. Martin Kaymer set the 36-hole scoring record at 130 amid complaints that a restored, rustic Pinehurst No. 2 without traditional rough was making it too easy.
Or maybe Kaymer was simply that good.
One question that came up Saturday morning is worth asking again after the “Germanator” produced the second-lowest score in U.S. Open history (271) with an eight-shot victory in which he led by at least four shots over the last 48 holes.
If this had been Tiger Woods, would anyone be talking so much about the golf course?
“I can remember we got some criticism in 2000 because Tiger shot 12 under at Pebble Beach,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said Sunday evening, referring to what still stands as the greatest performance in the majors. “And I kind of scratched my head thinking, ‘OK, the best score for the other 155 players was 3 over.’”
This is the other side of a double standard that applies to Woods, through no fault of his own. When he wins big — and he has done that a lot in his career — it’s all about the player. Anyone else and something was wrong with the golf course.
Pinehurst No. 2 was a worthy test.
Take the 29-year-old German out of the equation and there would have been a playoff Monday between Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton, who won the B Flight at this U.S. Open. They were the only other players to finish under par. Isn’t that typical of a U.S. Open?
The USGA keeps data known as “cost of rough,” a peculiar term after touting Pinehurst No. 2 as having no rough. The cost of missing the fairway this week was .286 shots, compared with .303 when the U.S. Open first came to Pinehurst in 1999 (Payne Stewart won at 1-under 279), and .368 in 2005 when Michael Campbell won at even par.
Pay attention to the game, not the name.
“I think we all were playing for second,” Compton said.
“Martin was playing his own tournament,” Fowler said.
These are similar to the sentiments shared after Woods destroyed the field at Pebble Beach, and Rory McIlroy did the same at Congressional in 2011.
McIlroy set the U.S. Open scoring record on a rain-softened course at 16-under 268 to win by eight shots. Twenty players finished under par that week. Perhaps that’s why McIlroy said he considered Kaymer’s performance at Pinehurst No. 2 to be more impressive.
Kaymer had been a forgotten star the last two years as he worked to build a complete game. McIlroy helped made golf fans forget about Kaymer, too. He is younger than Kaymer (by just over four years), and rose to stardom by winning two majors by eight shots in consecutive years.
Kaymer won his first major at Whistling Straits in 2010 at a PGA Championship remembered for Dustin Johnson’s blunder in the bunker.
Overlooked in the final hour of chaos was the clutch tee shot by Kaymer on the 223-yard 17th hole along Lake Michigan, and a 15-foot birdie putt that tied Bubba Watson going into the last hole of the playoff. He won a World Golf Championship in Shanghai at the end of 2011 with nine birdies over the last 12 holes to close with 63.
During his U.S. Open romp on Sunday, NBC showed a highlight of one moment that shows how strong Kaymer is between the ears.
It was from the Ryder Cup last year at Medinah. He was playing so badly that no one in Europe — Kaymer included — wanted him to make the team. Kaymer played only one match going into Sunday. And just his luck, he stood over a 6-foot putt on the 18th hole that effectively would decide the Ryder Cup.
He poured it into the heart of the cup, a show of will and incredible mental strength.
Davis walked the last two rounds with Kaymer this weekend, and as much as he was paying attention to how the course played, even more impressive was watching Kaymer.
“We should celebrate what Martin Kaymer did this week,” Davis said. “He executed beautifully. He thought beautifully. … To watch his course management and his execution was just brilliant. To me, I like a course setup where if you do all the right things you get rewarded.”
That’s how it was for Woods, whose win at Pebble Beach was historic. That’s how it was for McIlroy, whose victory at Congressional was hailed as the arrival of golf’s next star. Kaymer’s win shouldn’t be viewed much differently.