PINEHURST, N.C. – There was no heartache.
There was none of the stinging pain that comes with losing a close call.
There wasn’t any of the torment that usually comes when golf’s “nearly men” are denied in their Sunday chance to win their first major championship.
That’s because Martin Kaymer made the men who look like they are nearly there in their quest to break through and win a major look so far away from it on Sunday at the U.S. Open.
In his eight-shot runaway at Pinehurst No. 2, Kaymer left some of the best players never to win a major looking as if they’ve still got a lot of work to do.
Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day added to their top-10 finishes in majors, showings that will look better on their resumes than they did to the galleries and TV audience looking for them to make a game of it.
Nobody was able to put any pressure on Kaymer.
Of the 16 players who went off in the final eight pairings Sunday, Kaymer was the only one to break par.
Fowler came into this major off a tie for fifth at the Masters, equaling his best finish in a major. He arrived saying he “couldn’t care less what happened in other tournaments because my main goals are to be ready for the majors.”
Fowler wasn’t quite ready for Sunday, not on this beastly course, not against Kaymer, but he wasn’t dissatisfied with his tie for second. He’s only 25, and it was, after all, his first time playing in the final Sunday pairing at a major. He found some encouragement in his 72, a tie for second that goes down as his best finish in a major.
“The more experience you can get in the final groups, and especially in majors, and in contention at majors, it definitely helps out for down the road,” Fowler said. “It’s going to happen. I just have to keep going through the process, putting myself in position . . . We're going to continue to do this and keep my game progressing the right way and it's just a matter of time.”
Fowler got himself off track at the fourth hole, skulling a shot over the green and behind a tree, making a mess that forced him to hole a 20-foot putt just to make double bogey.
“They talk about prime being early 30s,” Fowler said. “I got a little ways to go.”
Johnson, who turns 30 next week, kept saying “anything can happen” with Kaymer running away this weekend. Johnson left frustrated because he couldn’t make anything happen. He’s had those disappointments – blowing a 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 and giving away a one-shot lead at the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship, where he infamously grounded his club in dirt he didn’t know was a bunker. This was a different kind of frustration Sunday.
“I just wasn’t very good today,” Johnson said after shooting a 73 and finishing tied for fourth, 10 shots back. “I needed to get some momentum. I just felt like I never got any going.”
Johnson didn’t make his first birdie until the 10th hole.
Stenson, 38, finished tied for fourth after a 73. It’s the sixth time he’s finished T-4 or better in a major, but maybe the least satisfying.
“I didn’t have the game to even try to charge,” Stenson said.
Snedeker, 33, who saw his runs at the ’08 Masters and ’12 British Open fall short, also closed with a 73 Sunday. Snedeker tied for ninth with Johnson, his sixth top 10 in a major.
Snedeker, though, wasn’t himself, not with another injury plaguing him. He tweaked his back early in the round, so much so that he struggled reaching over to get his ball out of the hole. He wouldn’t use it as an excuse in the end.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” Snedeker said. “I didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for today. A good finish at this point in my career doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. I’m here to win golf tournanments. I saw a lot of good signs, I take positives about that, but I don’t take much out of top-10 finishes.”
Day, like Fowler, is still young in these majors. He’s 26, and he’s coming off a thumb injury that’s allowed him to play just three events since he won the Accenture Match Play Championship back in February. He actually closed well Sunday, but he was too far back to start. His 68 was good for a tie for fourth, his fifth finish of fourth or better in majors.
“I can’t look at these finishes as frustrating,” Day said. “I look at what I need to do to get better, to win the next time around. I’ve only gained experience. Stuff like this is very valuable. There is something pushing me to finish well in the majors, and some point along the line, I’ll play well and win one.”
Or maybe more than one, these “nearly men” hope, if Kaymer will let them.