- Associated Press - Monday, August 16, 2010

SHEBOYGAN, WIS. (AP) - Even with the Wanamaker Trophy at his side, Martin Kaymer could not believe he was a major champion.

Neither could anyone else.

Even after winning the PGA Championship, he had to share the spotlight with hard-luck Dustin Johnson, the victim of a two-stroke penalty on the final hole when he grounded his club in a bunker without realizing he was in a hazard.

It will be hard to mention Whistling Straits without thinking of Johnson, just as Jean Van de Velde and his comical collapse remains such an ingrained part of the history at Carnoustie.

It might take another major for the 25-year-old German to get his due.

Not many would be surprised if he did.

Kaymer was in his second year on the European Tour when he won the Abu Dhabi Championship, then finished birdie-birdie-eagle in Dubai to finish one shot behind Tiger Woods.

“You’ve got to watch this kid play,” Ernie Els said early in 2008. “He’s going to be something, I promise you.”

Consider the promise fulfilled.

Lost in the controversy over what should constitute a bunker at Whistling Straits were the clutch putts Kaymer made in the final round Sunday. First came the 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole in regulation to earn his spot in the playoff. Then came another 15-footer on the par-3 17th, the second of a three-hole playoff to catch up to Bubba Watson.

The end was anticlimactic for everyone but Kaymer.

He rapped in a 2-foot bogey putt to finish one shot ahead of Watson in the playoff, calmly plucked the ball from the cup and had to muster up some emotion to commemorate his first major.

Typical stoicism of a German? Not really.

“If I would have made that par putt in the playoff, I probably would have freaked out,” Kaymer said. “But it was only a little bit more than a foot, 1 1/2 feet, to win it. And when I was walking toward the putt, I just thought I should really think about that feeling, what I have now. I really wanted to enjoy that moment.”

Perhaps there was enough time to think about growing up in Germany, where two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer was the only golfing hero in a soccer-mad country.

Kaymer started kicking a ball around when he was 3, only picking up golf when his father and brother took him to a public driving range when he was 10. He enjoyed the time spent with family, and his natural athleticism made it clear he would be an athlete.

It was only a matter of choosing, and Kaymer appears to have made the right choice.

“Obviously, soccer is bigger in Germany than golf,” he said. “But for me, I enjoyed to be out on the golf course early in the morning by myself, nobody disturbing me. That was for me one of the nicest moments.”

Those days of solitude might be behind him.

The victory Sunday was the sixth for Kaymer, who joined the European Tour in 2007. He first got attention by shooting a 59 on a mini-tour in Europe, and earning his card on its Challenge Tour by finishing four on the money list in only eight events.

He won successive weeks in the French Open and Scottish Open last year and has been taking baby steps in the majors.

This was a giant leap.

“The majors are the biggest tournaments that you can win in your career,” he said. “And just knowing that I can win a tournament like that gives me huge confidence for any other tournament I will play for the rest of my career. This was the toughest field all year.”

Even so, he never considered Whistling Straits the place to win his first major.

Kaymer was more focused on a strong finish when he started the final round four shots behind Nick Watney. His goal was to do well enough to lock up his spot in the Ryder Cup, which he attended last year as a guest of European captain Nick Faldo.

“I was never really expecting myself to win here on Sunday,” Kaymer said. “I know that I had a chance, but majors … they are a little bit different than normal golf tournaments that we play week to week.”

Imagine his surprise when he made birdie on the par-5 second, then a brilliant shot with the wind at his back on the 489-yard fourth hole that put him atop the leaderboard when Watney began to crumble.

“I said to my caddie on the sixth hole, ‘It doesn’t really matter what happened today, but it’s the first time in my career that I’m leading a major championship. It’s a pretty cool feeling,’” Kaymer said.

He tried not to look on the back nine, but the pressure was evident over the final few holes. Kaymer kept his cool.

Kaymer was sad to see Johnson eliminated from the playoff with the two-stroke penalty, a bizarre end to a strange year in the majors. No matter what happens, though, his name is on the trophy.

He gazed at some of the names he joins, from Walter Hagen to Ben Hogan, from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods.

“It will take me a while to realize what happened,” he said.

As for becoming German’s next golfing star? Kaymer says he still has a ways to go to catch Langer, a two-time Masters champion, Ryder Cup star and winning Ryder Cup captain.

Besides, this was just one major. Langer won a Senior British Open and a Senior U.S. Open in consecutive weeks.

“Actually, I have to win the Masters next year then to accomplish that,” he said.

After what he did Sunday in the PGA Championship, not many would put that past him.

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