Day 2 at the U.S. Open: Kaymer should go for Tiger’s record
PINEHURST, N.C. — Martin Kaymer may be the hottest golfer on the planet right now and on pace to flirt with Tiger Woods’ seemingly unbreakable record for largest-ever victory in a major tournament.
But in his home country … Kaymer’s gleaming storyline of unprecedented success still might run second to that of Germany’s off-day preparations for its World Cup opener against Portugal.
"Well, I’m actually glad that Germany starts on Monday," said the measured and modest Kaymer, who established a new U.S. Open record Friday for lowest aggregate score after 36 holes (130), thanks to back-to-back 65s to open the tournament.
"That’s the first game, so maybe I got a little bit of some — how do you say it? — like some things in the newspapers about me," said Kaymer, as if he were blissfully unaware that Friday’s amazing round garnered international headlines, Germany aside. "Even though (the German fans and media) talk about the (soccer) preparation probably every single minute or hour about the national team is doing, which is fair enough.
"Futbol is our biggest sport, and I can’t wait to watch the first game when they play against Portugal on Monday," says Kaymer. "So it’s a little bit of a side sport right now."
When Kaymer wrapped his Friday round early in the day (the benefits of a late start on Thursday), he walked into the Pinehurst clubhouse with an eight-stroke lead and the golf mini-universe seemingly at his fingertips.
For the first two rounds, the 29-year-old dynamo racked up 11 birdies, 24 pars and just one bogey; and in the process, he has dutifully kept his fellow competitors at bay, establishing a six-shot gulf between him and Raymond Todd, who’ll be Kaymer’s playing partner on Saturday.
"(Kaymer’s lead) is considerable," said Adam Scott, the current top-ranked player in the world. From Kaymer’s perspective, "I think you have to keep the big picture in mind and there’s 36 holes to play and don’t play like you’re leading — almost.
"That doesn’t mean play (too) aggressively or do anything stupid, but I don’t know why (Kaymer) would change anything of what he’s doing. Potentially, (if) he goes out (Saturday) and plays better than everyone else again … this thing’s over," continued Scott, the 2013 Masters champion.
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It’s fun to get inside Kaymer’s head and attempt to understand what he’s going through, and how a long, potentially restless night’s sleep — along with a lengthy wait before teeing off on Saturday — will affect his attitude and strategy for the remaining 36 holes.
Will he get in the spirit of Moving Day or adhere to conservative measures over the next 36 holes, doubly realizing he owns a six-shot lead (over Brendon Todd — 4-under) and that only 12 other golfers currently stand below-par.
"I don’t need to set any (specific round) goals. I just wait for what the afternoon will do," laments Kaymer about any preordained strategies for Saturday play. "If you set goals, then you’re adding a little pressure again because you try to reach them instead of going out there and being equal, being neutral, just play. So I’m not really into goals for the next two days, I just want to play."
Kaymer can afford to harbor such easy-come, easy-go thoughts, even if the U.S. Open holds slightly more meaning than a regular PGA Tour event in San Diego, Hartford or Hilton Head, S.C.
Just take a gander at the leaderboard, and of the players currently breaking par (a list that includes Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Na, Dustin Johnson, Brendon de Jonge, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson (the world’s No. 2-ranked golfer) … only Keegan Bradley (2-under) and Rory McIlroy (1-under) have claimed major titles (one for Bradley, two for Rory).
And by being paired with Todd — who possesses more Web.com victories than PGA Tour wins — there’s no real fear factor on Kaymer’s end, as opposed to being grouped with McIlroy, Bradley, Ian Poulter (even par), Graeme McDowell (2-over) or Phil Mickelson (3-over).
Speaking of Mickelson, remember the 2006 Masters, when Lefty won his second green jacket (at the time) and had the great fortune of alluding Viajy Singh or Tiger Woods on the final Sunday pairing?
Instead, he drew a friendly matchup with Fred Couples, with the two friends routinely sharing laughs and engaging in relaxed conversations throughout the back nine — even though eight other golfers would finish within three shots of the champion Mickelson.
Come Saturday, Kaymer may have a similarly tense-free experience playing with Todd. At the very least, TV viewers shouldn’t expect any rapid implosions over a four- or five-hole span — sort of like Dr. Gil Morgan’s quick fade during Round 3 of the 1992 U.S. Open (at famed Pebble Beach) … after seizing and then vanquishing a sizable Saturday lead.
Kaymer has a mechanical precision to his game, so much that any Saturday dropoff will be more subtle than sublime.
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The Pinehurst No. 2 course bears a significantly different look this summer, compared to the Pinehurst U.S. Opens in 1999 (champion: Payne Stewart) and 2005 (champion: Michael Campbell); and when surveying the renovated ground, via on-site walkthroughs and TV closeups, the fresh layout resembles something from the superb courses at Kiawah Island, S.C.
McIlroy dominated the competition at the Kiawah Island PGA Championship in 2012, lapping the field by eight strokes (13-under). By extension, he shouldn’t be an afterthought when brainstorming the candidates — if any exist — who could overtake the incomparable Kaymer by Sunday night.
"Honestly, if I have a couple more 68s, like today, I would take my chances — 5-under total … I would sit in the clubhouse happily with that," McIlroy said on Friday. "So we’ll see. But I played solid today, played solid the last couple of days. … When I missed a shot today, I missed it in the right place and was able to get it up-and-down.
"If someone had told me that I was going to be standing here 1-under par after 36 holes, at the start of the week, I would have taken it."
Here’s the rub from McIlroy’s day: Of the players currently tied for 14th or higher (including Rory), 12 shot 69 or better on Friday, somewhat diluting the superb shot-making from stars like Adam Scott (67) and Jason Day (68).
In fact, check this out: At 4:52 p.m. EST, the Open’s top 13 golfers had all birdied the par-4 3rd hole. That’s an absurdly good trend … even for the easiest hole from Friday’s round — with a cumulative scoring average of 3.63.
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Has it already been 14 years since Tiger Woods demolished all comers at the 2000 U.S. Open (Pebble Beach), winning by a modern-day-majors record of 15 strokes … while also serving as the only player to finish under par (-12)?
That record was supposed to rival the number of Halley’s Comet visits to earth (every 75 years) or at least carry into Tiger’s down-the-road eligibility for the Champions Tour (January 2026). Instead, Kaymer has the capacity to at least dream about something so profound, so awesome … that it might raise his profile in the super-deep world of 20-something golf stars.
But then again, we’re talking about the same Kaymer who expressed projected happiness with a four-day score of 288 (8-over) on Wednesday … and then promised the media he would not duplicate Thursday’s 65 on Friday.
"The rain. There was some, lots, of rain last night that made the golf course playable. Because I was expecting the golf course playing a lot firmer and obviously that rain helped a lot last night and you could still be aggressive (Friday)," recalled Kaymer.
"We had perfect greens in the morning, but still you have to hit good shots. But you know what I said, it’s very rare, obviously the record shows that it’s very rare that somebody shoots 10-under par after two rounds. And it just happened in my case now.
"So, yeah, but I didn’t expect it."
McIlroy, perhaps in a bout of civil gamesmanship, would endorse the idea of the USGA officials stretching themselves creatively, in terms of weekend pin placements.
"(The USGA) could play the golf course at full length. They haven’t done this over the past couple of days, they have moved a few tees around. So they can play the golf course at full length," said McIlroy. "Pin positions today were tricky, really tricky. It’s not — even with receptive greens here, you’re still going to run off. And even if they get so receptive the ball spins, the balls spin off the greens and spin everywhere."
That’s not to say the Pinehurst course played super-easy on Friday; it might have been a top-heavy demonstration of excellence.
By utilizing the bell-curve method of evaluation — essentially throwing out the best score after 36 holes (Kaymer’s 130) — the U.S. Open people deserve props for making this a sometimes-brutal, but eminently fair test of golf … where anything in the realm of "Even" to "3-under" is a championship-worthy tally.
Of course, the tournament organizers may feel inclined to include Kaymer’s contribution on Sunday … when a U.S. Open champion is crowned.
For Kaymer’s sake, he needs to close the deal before the Germany-Portugal futbol match on Monday.