PINEHURST, N.C. — At this point, Martin Kaymer can dream a little bigger than 8-over par.
The first-day leader of the U.S. Open pulled off the implausible on Friday, matching Thursday’s record-setting round of 65. (Heading into the tourney, no golfer had ever posted a 65 or lower in U.S. Open play at Pinehurst. Kaymer has incredibly done it twice.)
As such, the 29-year-old German and former world’s top-ranked golfer (2011) now sits at 10-under after 36 holes.
"I didn’t make many mistakes (Friday)," said Kaymer, who attributed his superb putting to the overnight rains in North Carolina. "I got a little tight the last three or four holes, but I made good up-and-downs, especially on 6 and 7. I hit enough fairways, enough greens, gave myself a few chances, made a couple longer putts on 16 and then another one earlier."
For what it’s worth, Kaymer fell one shot short of Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open record for lowest under-par score after 36 holes (11-under in 2011). But he got some Rory revenge on the flip side, clipping McIlroy (131) for the lowest aggregate score in U.S. Open history after 36 holes (130).
Kaymer is also one of six golfers in U.S. Open history to be stationed at -10 under or better after 36 holes — a distinguished group that includes McIlroy, Dr. Gil Morgan, Ricky Barnes and Tiger Woods, among others.
"I think that, obviously, you need to play very solid and you need a little bit of luck here and there, and that (has been) on my side so far," said Kaymer, with a few traces of modesty. "It’s quite nice, I’m enjoying it."
Of equal importance, Kaymer strolled into the clubhouse on Friday, post-round, with an eight-shot lead — over a host of productive, but ultimately lagging players at 2-under.
Brendon de Jonge is one of the overlooked few lumped in at 2-under, although the Zimbabwe native is accentuating the positive with the sizable Kaymer gap — for now.
"I don’t think ‘demoralizing’ is the word," said de Jonge, who tallied an even-par 70 on Friday, the result of 14 pars, two birdies and two bogeys. "I’m under par through two rounds at the U.S. Open … very, very happy with that."
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Kaymer’s scintillating 65 — two strokes shy of the single-round record at the U.S. Open (Johnny Miller in 1973) — looks good from any angle. But the sheer balance of everything was particularly impressive.
Starting at the 10th (unlike beginning at the 1st hole on Thursday), Kaymer quickly raised the bar by netting a birdie. He then went on to birdie a pair of par-4s — 13 and 16 — to reach the turn at 3-under for the day, a small-sample score that, when evaluated in a vacuum, would have given Kaymer the outright lead.
"It’s just very, very satisfying. I said to my caddie … ‘There were a couple of shots today that I was surprised how good they were,’" said Kaymer, who already owns one major title (2010 PGA Championship).
He stayed hot on the "back nine" (holes 1-9), getting birdie at the par-4 No. 3 and then collecting a cool birdie at the par-5 5th, before steadily sticking at level par for the remaining four holes.
As a professional, Kaymer has either led or shared the lead after 36 holes seven times; and within that scope, he claimed the tourney title four times, took second place twice and slumped to 9th just once (citing ESPN graphic).
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On Wednesday, during his pre-tournament session with the media, Kaymer genuinely said he’d be happy with a four-day tally of 288, or 8-over — an educated guess which presumed the rebuilt Pinehurst No. 2 course would eventually win out over the Open field.
And while his conservative take emitted a smattering of laughs from the press corps, Kaymer’s statement was likely steeped more in fact than pure gut feeling.
Of the last 19 U.S. Opens, dating back to 1995, the eventual champion has posted a final score of 3-under or higher 12 times — including the last two Open victors finishing at 1-over (Webb Simpson in 2012/Justin Rose in 2013).
And even when factoring in Tiger Woods’ 12-under from 2000 (Pebble Beach) and Rory McIlroy’s 16-under from three years ago (Congressional Country Club), the aggregate champions’ score still averages out to a modest 2.5-under.