2014 U.S. Open: The Biggest Surprises at Pinehurst

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2014

2014 U.S. Open: The Biggest Surprises at Pinehurst

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    German-born Martin Kaymer became the sixth-consecutive player to win the U.S. Open for the first time on Sunday, when he entered the day with a five-shot lead and never wavered while shooting a final-round 69 on Pinehurst No. 2.

    Kaymer's four-day score of nine-under-par 271 joined Americans Lucas Glover (2009) and Webb Simpson (2012), Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell (2010) and Rory McIlroy (2011) and England's Justin Rose (2013) as first-time Open-winners since Tiger Woods won his third Open—and 14th majorin 2008.

    The 29-year-old Kaymer had won one previous major title, taking the PGA Championship in a playoff with Bubba Watson in 2010. He had his best previous Open finish that year as well, finishing in a seventh-place tie at Pebble Beach in California.

    Only one of those other Open-winners, McIlroy, has also added another major. McIlroy made it two titles with a PGA Championship victory in 2012.

    But while the continuation of that newbie trend at the Open was hardly a shocker given history, the final 18 holes on Sunday weren't completely without a surprise here and there.

    We take a look at some of them here. And, as always, feel free to make suggestions of your own in the comments section.

6. A Drama-Free 3 Hours

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    The NBC broadcast was scheduled to go until 7:30 p.m. ET, but let's face it—anyone watching with great urgency past 4:37 p.m. was doing so because they're either a ridiculously passionate golf fan, or the batteries in the remote control had gone dead.

    It was within that 60-second stretch that Phil Mickelson was making his walk up the 18th fairway and thereby removing the world's most famous (active) player from the field.

    Meanwhile, final-pairing pursuer Rickie Fowler was in the process of unraveling at that moment on the fourth hole, taking away any semblance of leaderboard heat off three-round front-runner Martin Kaymer.

    Fowler missed the fairway with his drive, sent his second into the trees and wound up with a long putt to save double-bogey on the par-four hole, dropping from six shots behind to eight and essentially ending the tournament in the German's favor before he'd neared the middle of his round.   

5. Zach Johnson Draws an Ace

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Zach Johnson was in no contention of adding a second major to his 2007 Masters Championship, but he did manage to make a little memory during his final round Sunday at Pinehurst.

    The 38-year-old Iowan hit the green from the tee on the 172-yard par-three ninth, then saw the ball meander its way from left to right before plunking gently into the cup for the 44th hole-in-one in U.S. Open history.

    It did no damage on the leader-board, but the ace did prompt Johnson to toss his club in the air and fling out a few underhand fist pumps before dashing up and down each side of the gallery exchanging hand slaps with the assembled fans.

    It didn't win him a tournament, but it may be awhile before he forgets it.

4. The Slam Eludes Lefty

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Phil Mickelson's return to Pinehurst was clearly the biggest story heading into this week.

    It had been 15 years since his memorable second-place finish to the late Payne Stewart, he was the most recognizable player in the field and he was the only one with the opportunity to complete a career Grand Slam by adding some U.S. Open hardware to his trophy case.

    But it was clear by the weekend that it wasn't going to happen—he was three shots over par and 11 shots behind Martin Kaymer when play opened on Saturday—and all NBC was left to by Sunday afternoon was including him on a graphic illustrating how difficult it's been for players to win the fourth major.

    Tiger Woods remains the only player to finish the Slam in his initial opportunity, having done so at the 2000 British Open after winning his first three in 1997 (Masters), 1999 (PGA Championship) and earlier in 2000 (U.S. Open). Mickelson's second try comes next year at Chambers Bay in Washington.

3. The Charge That Never Came

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    USA TODAY Sports

    NBC's Johnny Miller made it clear several times throughout the broadcast.

    Though the field chasing Martin Kaymer at the top of the Sunday afternoon leaderboard was chock-full of young players with significant street cred on the PGA and other golf tours throughout the world, none of them ever mounted a serious charge to Kaymer's huge lead as the remaining holes dwindled.

    Kaymer's lead was at eight strokes during the second round on Friday, and it never went to less than four strokes the rest of the way before ultimately ending at eight when he secured the title with a par on No. 18.

    Rickie Fowler was in the final pairing and within five shots to begin Sunday's play, but his double-bogey on the par-four fourth hole was his first of the tournament. Fowler and Erik Compton finished tied for second, eight shots behind.

    "There's something about the U.S. Open that really makes people crumble. It's just a really tough championship to play four good rounds, especially on Sunday," Miller said. "I keep waiting for the Sunday charge by this generation of golfers, but I just haven't seen it."

2. Heart of a Champion

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    Associated Press

    The medical saga of Erik Compton was well-documented all week.

    He had a pair of heart transplants and fought his way back into top-shelf competition on the sport's biggest stage, then entered the final round on Sunday within shouting distance of the lead in the field's second-to-last pairing.

    The final 18 holes never brought him any closer than four strokes behind Martin Kaymer, but a par putt on the 18th for the 34-year-old was worthy of standing ovation treatment from the gallery.

    The putt secured an under-par finish in his second major tournament appearance and added another name to the all-sports legacy of athletes who fought through impossible odds.

    They didn't give out a "best story" trophy, but if there was hardware for feel-good performance of the week, he'd have earned by double-digit shots.

    "It was special," Compton said on NBC as he qualified for the Masters with the second-place tie with Rickie Fowler. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. I'd never gotten this far in my dreams. It's just a real special moment."

1. Honoring Thy Mother and Father

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    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    As if winning his first U.S. Open wasn't enough, Martin Kaymer made a bit of less-mainstream history with his resounding victory on Sunday afternoon. The eight-shot win gave him the unique honor of having won on both Mother's Day and Father's Day in the same calendar year.

    Kaymer captured the Players Championship back on May 11 when he completed a one-shot victory over veteran Jim Furyk on The Players Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

    NBC captured the moment with a video vignette of Kaymer that discussed his mother's death from skin cancer in 2008, alongside his relationship with his father, whom Kaymer said was no doubt watching the final U.S. Open round in the middle of the night at his home in Germany—some six hours ahead.

    Tom Kite was the last player to pull off the parental double back in 1992, when he brought home trophies for both the BellSouth Classic and the U.S. Open.