By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PINEHURST North Carolina (Reuters) - Rickie Fowler ended up a distant eight shots behind runaway champion Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort on Sunday but was thrilled with a tie for second, his best finish at a major.
Heading into this year, young gun Fowler had made a top priority of the four majors and midway through his 2014 campaign it is a case of so far, so good as he started off with joint fifth place in the Masters at Augusta National in April.
"I'm really happy about it," the American, one of the game's most exciting talents to emerge in recent years, told reporters after shooting a two-over-par 72 on a tricky Pinehurst layout for a one-under total of 279.
"My goals going into the year were to get ready for Augusta and then contend at majors ... so I am definitely pleased about that and looking forward to the next two (majors).
"This year at Augusta it was definitely the most comfortable I felt on the golf course, being in contention and hanging around and playing well on the weekend. The same with this week here at Pinehurst."
Fowler, who wore his customary orange colors for the last day of a tournament, was paired with Kaymer in the final pairing on Sunday, a learning experience which he fully embraced.
"I felt really comfortable, which is a very good thing," said the 25-year-old Californian. "I only played a handful of final groups and this is my first one in a major.
"The more experience you can get in the final groups, and especially in majors and being in contention at majors, it definitely helps out for down the road."
Fowler knew he faced a near-impossible task to chase down the in-form Kaymer in the final round after trailing the German by five shots overnight.
"I figured I would have to go out and shoot a couple under (par) on the front nine and at least put a little bit of heat on him," said Fowler, who won his first PGA Tour title at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.
"That was kind of stopped quickly when I made a quick double (bogey) there on four, so I was thrown behind the eight-ball quickly and kind of rallied back and kept moving forward."
Fowler did well to rebound from his damaging double-bogey at the fourth, and also from dropped shots at the ninth and 11th as he birdied 12 and 13 on the way to a tie for second place with fellow American Erik Compton.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get close enough to put any pressure on Martin, but it was fun playing alongside him and watching him, how he controlled himself throughout the day," Fowler said after recording his fourth top-10 finish at a major.
"Obviously he gave himself quite a big cushion after the first two days and kind of hung around yesterday. He's a very deserving champion this week."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)