PINEHURST, N.C. – Martin Kaymer is playing a brand of golf rarely seen in the U.S. Open. It might even be enough for soccer-mad Germany to pay attention.
The other 155 players at Pinehurst No. 2 certainly are.
Kaymer set the 36-hole scoring record at the U.S. Open Friday with another 5-under 65 – this one without a single bogey – to build a six-shot lead over former Peters Township resident Brendon Todd and leave the rest of the field wondering if the 29-year-old German was playing a different course, or even a different tournament.
“If he does it for two more days, then we’re all playing for second spot,” Adam Scott said.
Kaymer was at 10-under 130, breaking by one shot the record set by Rory McIlroy at rain-softened Congressional in 2011. He had an eight-shot lead when he finished his morning round. Todd made some tough par saves to keep bogeys off his card for a 67.
“I heard he played the No. 3 course. Is that true?” Kevin Na said after a 69 put him seven shots behind. “It’s unbelievable what he’s done. Is 4 or 5 under out there? Yes. Ten under out there? No, I don’t think so. I guess it was out there for him. I watched some of the shots he hit and some of the putts he’s made and he looks flawless.”
The six-shot lead after 36 holes tied the U.S. Open record first set by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000 and matched by McIlroy at Congressional. Woods wound up winning by 15 shots. McIlroy won by eight.
“I played Congressional and I thought, ‘How can you shoot that low?’ And that’s probably what a lot of other people think about me right now,” Kaymer said.
At least a few of them allowed for some hope going into the weekend. Todd, who won the Byron Nelson Championship last month for his first PGA Tour win, will play in the final group Saturday in his first U.S. Open.
Brandt Snedeker had a 68 and joined Na at 3-under 137.
Phil Mickelson was 13 shots behind after going back to his conventional putting grip and giving up too many shots. He had a 73.
A fast-moving thunderstorm dumped rain on Pinehurst overnight, though it didn’t make the course that much easier. The pins were in tougher locations. Trouble is waiting around any corner at Pinehurst No. 2. Kaymer rarely found it.
He opened with a short birdie on the par-5 10th hole, added birdie putts from 20 and 25 feet, and then hit a gorgeous drive on the par-4 third hole, where the tee was moved up to make it play 315 yards. His shot landed perfectly between two bunkers and bounced onto the green to set up a two-putt birdie.
And the lead kept growing.
“I look at the scoreboards. It’s enjoyable,” Kaymer said. “To see what’s going on, to watch yourself, how you react if you’re leading by five, by six. … I don’t know, but it’s quite nice to play golf that way.”
It looks like a typical U.S. Open – except for Kaymer.
Dustin Johnson opened with a pair of 69s, a score he would have gladly taken at the start of the week and perhaps thought it would be good enough to lead.
“I wouldn’t have thought it would be eight shots behind,” Johnson said.
Brooks Koepka, the American who is carving his way through the European Tour, birdied his last hole for a 68 and joined the group at 2-under 138 with Brendon de Jonge (70), Henrik Stenson (69) and former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who played in the same group with Kaymer and rallied for a 69.
“He’s as dialed it as I’ve seen,” Bradley said.
Kaymer was the sixth player in U.S. Open history to reach double-digits under par, though McIlroy was the only other player to get there before the weekend. Kaymer already won the PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits, and he added the next best thing to a major last month at The Players Championship. It’s tough for any golfer to make headlines in Germany, especially in a World Cup year.
At least Germany doesn’t start in Brazil until Monday.
“That’s the first game, so maybe I got a little bit of some … things in the newspapers about me,” Kaymer said. “Football (soccer) is our biggest sport, and I can’t wait to watch the first game. I think golf, it’s not that important, but not much I can do. I can just try my best and hopefully I can put myself out there.”
And if were to win?
“It will probably last until Monday, 12 o’clock, and then that’s it,” he said with a smile.
This is the “Germanator” everyone expected when he won the PGA Championship, and then a year later rose to No. 1 in the world. Kaymer felt his game was not complete enough, so he set out to develop a draw – his natural shot is a fade – and it took two years of lonely hours on the range to get it right.
At the moment, he can do no wrong.
Each time he looked to be in trouble, Kaymer escaped. He drove toward the lip of a bunker on the 14th and did well just to reach the front of the green, some 70 feet away. The long putt on the turtleback greens Donald Ross created was so difficult that his first putt nearly ran off the putting surface. He made a 12-footer for par.
Kaymer felt tired toward the end of the round, and it showed. He hit into bunkers on the sixth and seventh holes, and both times blasted out to short range. He also converted a difficult two-putt from the front of the eighth green.
He spent the whole day going forward. Now, everyone else is going to need him to come back to have any chance.
Kaymer doesn’t want to change his strategy.
“Because if you think of defending anything, then you’re pulling back, and that’s never really a good thing,” he said. “You just want to keep going. You want to keep playing. You want to challenge yourself. If you can stay aggressive and hit the right shots. And that’s quite nice that it’s a battle against yourself.”
That’s what this U.S. Open is right now. A one-man show.