PINEHURST, NC - Before the U.S. Open began, the USGA predicted that Pinehurst's wispy sands and turtleback greens would wrestle the world's greatest golfers to the ground. Golf pundits predicted that Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy, or at the very least Matt Kuchar, would win the year's second major. Meteorologists predicted rain would affect play every single day.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Martin Kaymer doesn't control the heavens, but that's about the only thing he didn't have a handle on this week at Pinehurst. The 29-year-old German absolutely owned Pinehurst No. 2 in a way rarely seen at a U.S. Open, posting a sleek minus-9 to finish eight strokes ahead of the field. Kaymer now holds two majors and the Players Championship, and has eliminated any doubts that he's one of the world's elite players.
This marked the third U.S. Open at Pinehurst. The first, in 1999, was one of the greatest majors in golf history, one that culminated in a final-hole showdown between Mickelson and winner Payne Stewart. The second, in 2005, featured the stunning collapse of Retief Goosen and an opportunistic win by Michael Campbell.
This year's model featured neither drama nor heartbreak. It was simply one relentless 72-hole stomp, Kaymer posting a three-stroke lead on Thursday, pairing that with a second 65 on Friday, and then never letting anyone within sight of his taillights all weekend long.
Oh, make no mistake, it wasn't like the field handed this to Kaymer. In fact, if you lop the top name off the leaderboard, this was one hell of a tournament, with only two golfers besides Kaymer besting the USGA's beloved par for the week. And as Mickelson heads toward the final few U.S. Opens in which he'll realistically be competitive, it's clear that golf's new generation is ready to own the leaderboard.
There's 25-year-old Rickie Fowler, who followed up a T5 at the Masters with a second-place finish at Pinehurst despite looking like something that belongs in a kid's lunch box. There's fellow second-place finisher Erik Compton, 34 years old but, as a two-time heart transplant recipient, one of the best stories on Tour. There's 29-year-old Dustin Johnson, whose progress up the world golf rankings is slow but inexorable, and 28-year-old Keegan Bradley, two of the five who finished at 1-over.
Golf's biggest names didn't pose much of a challenge. Tiger Woods remains on the sidelines from a back injury. Mickelson had hoped to avenge his 1999 Pinehurst loss but couldn't have putted worse if he'd just thrown the club at the ball, and ended the tournament at 7-over. Rory McIlroy, he of the constant up-and-down performances, was far more down than up this week, finishing at 6-over. Wonder kid Jordan Spieth broke par on Thursday but slowly slid backward to finish the tournament at 4-over. Masters champ Bubba Watson didn't even see the weekend. Only world No. 1 Adam Scott salvaged even a moral victory, finishing at 2-over to notch his first-ever top-10 finish in a U.S. Open.
Kaymer never let any of them anywhere close. He had every chance to gag on the weekend, and managed to play his way out of trouble time and again. His Sunday round of 1-under wasn't spectacular, but it didn't need to be. You could criticize the rest of the field for not making a run at Kaymer, but he didn't give them any hope, much less a chance.