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Admit it Tiger Woods haters, you miss him

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

The greatest player of his generation – and perhaps the greatest player of all time – sat out these last two major championships and watched Bubba Watson and now Martin Kaymer do what he used to do.

This must be killing Tiger Woods.

It's killing most of us golf fans, too, so scoot over on that couch, Tiger.

Martin Kaymer is a golfer's golfer. He's got a gorgeous, airtight golf swing. He's humble and gracious. He is piling up career milestones, adding a U.S. Open win by eight strokes at Pinehurst No. 2 to go along with his 2010 PGA Championship, his 2014 Players Championship and his holding of the world No. 1 ranking back in 2011. He probably doesn't have an enemy in the golf world. Bravo to the 29-year-old German. He's a classy player.

But it says something about Kaymer's ability to hold the public's imagination when both of his major championship wins were marked more by someone else's story.

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Martin Kaymer and Erik Compton pose with trophy after Kaymer won the U.S. Open. (AP)

Martin Kaymer and Erik Compton pose with trophy after Kaymer won the U.S. Open. (AP)

At Whistling Straits in 2010, it was Dustin Johnson's inability to read the local rules on bunkers that will live forever, not Kaymer's playoff win over Watson.

And at Pinehurst No. 2, it was the goosebump-inducing story of two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton's run to a tie for 2nd that caused the biggest cheers in the North Carolina forest.

Kaymer has tied his idol and countryman, Bernhard Langer, with two career majors, and that's a big deal. But it's going to take a lot more from Kaymer – and more importantly, from the rest of the current best players in the world – to save the sport from slipping into pre-Tiger obscurity.

We had high hopes for Phil Mickelson this week. He'd have owned the sports world, vied for headlines with Lionel Messi and Mario Balotelli, had he made an historic run at the career Grand Slam at Pinehurst in an event he so dearly covets after six runners-up. But Philly Mick still can't make the short putt in 2014, and he finished tie-28th, failing to break par in any of his four rounds.

We had high hopes for Rory McIlroy this week. He's not just a heartbreaker; he could have been a dream-maker, too, had he made a run at his third major championship and second U.S. Open at the tender age of 25. But Rory, despite a Friday 68 to titillate us, went 73-74 on the weekend and enters the summer nearing the two-year anniversary of his last win on U.S. soil.

We had high hopes for world No. 1 Adam Scott, and he played well, a Sunday 69 netting him a tie-9th. That's four straight majors with a top-15 finish, a strong follow-up to his 2013 Masters.

But you know what Tiger Woods would call that?

Loserville, population one.

All the media and fans who piled on Tiger in the depths of his personal crisis; all the media and fans who call out Tiger for poor sportsmanship and foul language; all the media and fans who root against Tiger just because they don't like domination and they don't like his face and they don't like him threatening Jack, here's a memo:

You miss the guy. Admit it. We all do.

Now, more than ever.

It's not the same without you, Tiger. Nobody's making back-nine runs. Nobody's forcing everyone to always check the leaderboard. Nobody's coming up to us at every party and social gathering like back when you were playing, and inevitably ask: "The U.S. Open? How'd Tiger play today?"

We don't know. And we won't until you come back. For now, it's Kaymer in a runaway, and that'll have to do.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

70-70-67-72 – 1-under 279, Rickie Fowler, tie-2nd, 114th United States Open Championship, Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C.

Look who's growing up, bit by bit. If this keeps up, we may see a young man from Southern California, clad in orange from head to toe, kissing a major championship trophy sometime soon.

Like Kaymer, it's hard to find anyone in the golf world who doesn't like Rickie Fowler. Not at all a silver-spoon kid, he's a former dirt biker with a homegrown swing that has found its rough edges polished of late by the great swing coach Butch Harmon. The results are striking.

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Rickie Fowler hits from the natural area on the fourth hole. (AP)

Rickie Fowler hits from the natural area on the fourth hole. (AP)

Fowler tied Compton in the "Non-Martin Kaymer Division," and that makes his second consecutive top-10 at a U.S. Open, including last year's tie-10th at Merion. Throw in his impressive tie-5th at the Masters in April, and nobody has played the first two majors of the year better than Fowler – except for the two guys who won, Watson and Kaymer.

The cynic will say that Fowler is like so many other great players, always a bridesmaid never a bride. (And imagine a bride in Oklahoma State orange, head to toe. Although, come to think of it, it's probably happened in Stillwater, Okla., I'd guess.) They will point to Fowler's 124 starts with only one win. They will say he has yet to cash in on that hand-eye coordination when it matters most.

I'll counter with this: Rickie Fowler is 25 years old, and one of the most exciting young talents in the game. He is trending in the right direction. Harmon's teachings are gradually moving him toward his goal, and in this now-now-now world, we all have to remember: gradually moving and trending are good things. Breathe, young Rickie. Breathe. Can't wait for your British Open at Hoylake.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

That said …. Rickie, step on up.

Fowler came to the fourth hole at Pinehurst No. 2 alongside Kaymer, in the final pairing, needing something good. Kaymer had just birdied No. 3 to extend his five-shot lead to six. But as I was just saying to my good friend Greg Norman, we all know six-shot leads are just a few holes away from immolation. It's golf, baby.

So. It's a par-4, No. 4 at Pinehurst No. 2. A long par-4. It's 528 yards, but that's OK because Fowler can bomb it right alongside Kaymer. They're almost identical in driving distance stats, both around 295 off the tee.

Except … Rickie made mincemeat of the hole.

He drove it wrong. He hit his second well right of the green. His third, needing to get on the green for any chance, missed the slope badly and rolled off. His fourth was forgettable. His fifth was miles away. His sixth, a long putt to save face, somehow went in. Some thought it a "good" double bogey, considering the length of the putt. Others thought it was goodnight, Rickie.

He fell eight behind Kaymer, and finished eight behind Kaymer.

It was Fowler's only double-bogey in 72 holes, an impressive feat in a tournament where only three of 156 players finished under par. But it can't happen at a U.S. Open, especially on a Sunday.

So let's go back out to No. 4 tee, remind Fowler that he's only six back and he can cut it to three or four with some birdies and smart play, remind him to breathe, re-tee and … give that man a mulligan!

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

“The wheels could be wobblin' right now.” – Johnny Miller, NBC, after Martin Kaymer's drive on No. 8 at the U.S. Open.

God bless Johnny Miller. My goodness, how we will miss him.

There was simply no way the "wheels" were "wobblin'" on Kaymer, who had a massive lead when he missed the fairway on No. 8, but Miller and NBC were so hellbent on injecting any sort of mystery and drama into a mystery- and drama-free final round, Miller pulled out all the stops. He later said Kaymer's face looked "ashen" after a bogey on No. 10. Kaymer looked so ashen, he won by eight strokes.

The larger point is, nobody in golf entertains like Johnny Miller. Nobody. Not David Feherty, as good as he is. Not Gary McCord, as good as he is. Certainly not Nick Faldo. Not Peter Kostis, even with the Konica Minolta camera thingy. Not Gary Koch, not Mark Rolfing, not even the very entertaining Peter Jacobsen.

Johnny Miller is to golf what John Madden is to football and Dick Vitale is to basketball and Bob Costas was to "BASEketball." He's iconic and good and instructive and infuriating and funny and always ready to press the panic button on some player choking. It will so not be the same without him next year, when FOX does the U.S. Open.

Johnny Miller, we will miss you, and your stories of your Sunday 63 at Oakmont, and your insistence that every chip is "makeable" and your insightful guesses on club choices and hole strategies and usually – usually, not always! – knowing when a player's flop sweat is just starting to glisten on camera.

You did San Francisco golf proud, Johnny. See you down the road.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

As we all huddle and try to draft a super-secret plan for a competitive British Open next month at Hoylake to sate us after two blowout wins in majors, the PGA Tour heads to Connecticut. Surely you remember last year at TPC River Highlands, when Ken Duke outdueled Chris Stroud. Or, perhaps you don't. We'll see what we can cook up for you, golf fan. You deserve some entertainment.

 

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