Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

USPGA Championship: Martin Kaymer has the magic touch to win many more

PGA of America president Jim Remy presents the Wanamaker Trophy to Martin Kaymer

As Martin Kaymer emerged from a chaotic final day at the US PGA with his first Major title, Dustin Johnson had to accept the devastating consequences of not reading the rules.

And Rory McIlroy, who finished just one stroke shy of the playoff, will be tantalised by thoughts of what might have been if he'd read a few of his putts on Sunday just a tad better.

Johnson certainly was the fall guy as Pete Dye's ‘Disney' links at Whistling Straits threw up one of the craziest finishes in Major Championship history.

The massed galleries booed and chanted ‘let him play' when Johnson was denied a place alongside Kaymer and Bubba Watson in the playoff when a two stroke penalty for grounding his club in a sand bunker on the final hole dropped him from a share of first into a tie for fifth on nine-under par.

One can only imagine the consequences had the popular American not missed a putt from inside seven feet for par at 18 and embarked on a ‘victory' celebration before learning of his transgression.

“It's unfortunate,” said Johnson, 26, as he graciously conceded the error had been his alone and the decision of the Championship Rules Committee had been correct. “The only worse thing that could have happened was if I'd made the putt on the last,” he added.

Johnson is one of the most gifted and powerful prospects in professional golf.

He also showed commendable strength of character this summer by bouncing back into contention at the Majors after throwing away a six stroke lead with a nightmare closing final round 82 at June's US Open, which was won by Graeme McDowell.

Yet in failing to read and digest Local Rule No 1 on the US PGA Championship bulletin given to every player and was pinned on the wall beside his locker, Johnson confirmed suspicions he's not the sharpest saw in the tool box.

Having won his first Major at 25, two years younger than Langer, and assuming he'll avoid the yips which bedevilled the iconic German, Kaymer looks good enough to exceed Langer's haul of two Majors. After sinking a phenomenal 15 foot par putt on 18 to force his way into the three hole playoff, Kaymer merely shrugged off the inevitability of big-hitter Watson's birdie at the 10th.

He then turned the pressure back on the American with a birdie of his own at the formidable par three 17th. Kaymer wrapped it all up with a facile lay-up bogey out of the right rough at 18 after Watson cracked, first hitting his tee shot into the right rough and his approach into the hazard fronting the green.

McIlroy has little if any soul-searching to do in the wake of the US PGA Championship. As he finished in a tie for third place (with Zach Johnson on 10-under after a level par 72 on Sunday), the Holywood youngster looked incredibly cool and composed in the pressure pot situation of contending on Sunday afternoon at the Majors.

He's finished third in the Majors twice before, at last year's PGA in Hazeltine and again at St Andrews, but McIlroy truly contended here and even if he missed a few fairways and greens, he still kept his rhythm.

The nerveless shots McIlroy hit into 17 and 18, for example, offered irrefutable evidence of his ability to handle with ease the greatest pressure in golf.

So it must have been utterly exasperating for the Irish youngster to miss three putts from inside seven feet (at six, eight and 15) on Sunday and go so close with several more from 12 feet or more on the back nine when all he needed was for two of those to drop to clinch his first Major title.

Putting has long been perceived as McIlroy's only weakness yet, as he benefits from concentrated work with Padraig Harrington's short game guru, Dr Paul Hurrion, there's precious little wrong with the 21-year-old's technique.

McIlroy proved this on Saturday when he'd 12 one-putts in the round of 67 which put him into contention for the first time going into the final day at the Majors, while he finished the tournament tied fourth in the putting stats with an average of 27 per round.

Like many streaky putters, McIlroy's confidence in his ability to read the lines grows exponentially with every putt he sinks, to the point where he can't miss from any angle or distance.

Yet it also shrinks if a few slide by, so it might be therapeutic for him to share involve his caddie, JP Fitzgerald, a little more in reading the awkward ones and share the burden with him.

As McIlroy headed on a sailing holiday to the Mediterranean with a few mates this week, he could take comfort at least from the knowledge that he found it so easy to navigate his way through the storm-tossed final nine holes at a Major championship.

McIlroy is now hoping for a Ryder Cup showdown with off-colour Tiger Woods at Celtic Manor.

Though Woods finished outside the top eight who automatically qualified last Sunday for the US team to face Europe in October, McIlroy believes he will play. “I'm sure we'll probably see him in Wales,” he said. “I'd love to face Tiger, unless his game rapidly improves. I think anyone in the European team would fancy their chances against him.”

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