By David Shefter, USGA
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, NC June 13, 2014 – Martin Kaymer completed a 36-hole stretch of dominance seldom seen in the U.S. Open, playing a bogey-free 18 on Friday to race to a six-stroke lead heading into the weekend at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2.
He’s in control of his game and his emotions, and is leaving the field in a vapor trail of pine straw.
A day after shooting the lowest score in nine U.S. Open rounds conducted at Pinehurst No. 2, the 29-year-old from Germany carded a second consecutive 5-under-par 65 to set a 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record of 130. His six-shot cushion matched Tiger Woods (2000) and Rory McIlroy (2011) for the largest midway lead. Both Woods and McIlroy went on to win the championship. McIlroy held the previous 36-hole record of 131 in 2011 on rounds of 65-66 at Congressional Country Club.
Following Thursday’s opening-round 65, Kaymer said he didn’t think another such score was possible. But with a morning starting time and benign conditions – little wind and receptive greens from .64 inches of overnight rain – on Friday morning, he pulled it off on the par-70 layout that measured 7,428 yards.
“I think that, obviously, you need to play very solid,” said Kaymer, the sixth player in U.S. Open history to reach double-digits under par. “You need a little bit of luck here and there, and that was on my side so far. It’s quite nice. I’m enjoying it.”
Recent first-time PGA Tour winner Brendon Todd trails by six after posting a 3-under 67 on Friday, while Kevin Na and Brandt Snedeker are seven back at 3-under 137. The group at 138 includes world No. 2 Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka, 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley, Brendon de Jonge and Dustin Johnson.
Thirteen players are in red numbers through 36 holes. The cut came at 5-over 145 with 67 professionals and reigning U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, of England, advancing to the weekend.
Defending champion Justin Rose is 11 back at 141, while six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson, needing the U.S. Open title to complete the career Grand Slam, might be too far back at 143 after shooting a 3-over 73 on Friday.
Kaymer, meanwhile, has been nearly flawless, playing the last 29 holes without a bogey. He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and is averaging 27 putts per round.
“I heard he played the No. 3 Course,” said Na, referring to one of the other layouts at Pinehurst. “Is that true? It’s unbelievable what he’s done. It’s amazing, I watched some of the shots he hit and some of the putts he’s made and he looks flawless.”
Starting on the inward nine, Kaymer birdied Nos. 10, 13, 16, 3 and 5. He drove the green on the 315-yard third hole and two-putted for birdie, and he also reached the par-5 fifth in two shots. His putts on 13 and 16 were from 20 and 25 feet, respectively.
“He must be playing a different golf course,” echoed Koepka.
Well, it’s definitely different from previous USGA championships at Pinehurst No. 2. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s restoration of the Donald Ross gem resulted in the removal of all the rough, which was replaced with native sandy areas with wiregrass and pine straw. With far less water being utilized, the course has become firmer and faster, conditions that USGA officials are hopeful will return on the weekend as long as the weather cooperates.
That would be fine with Kaymer, who earlier this week predicted a winning score of 8 over.
“I would like to see it as tough as possible,” he said. “I was always a fan of a golf course where you need to hit good golf shots and not really have a putting competition.
“Again, you can’t really think too much ahead. There’s a lot of confidence right now, yes, but it doesn’t mean that I can be too aggressive. I don’t want to put more pressure on myself. There’s enough pressure playing the U.S. Open and trying to finish as high as possible.”
But can anyone catch him? In 2000 at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, Woods won by a whopping 15 strokes and was the only golfer to finish under par over 72 holes. McIlroy, in 2011, never was threatened and won by eight, shooting 16-under 268, a 72-hole record.
Todd, who carded a bogey-free 67 on Friday, certainly has positioned himself for a weekend run. And he came into his first U.S. Open with momentum, having won the HP Byron Nelson Championship last month in Texas, followed by a pair of top-10 finishes.
Just how fast has Todd risen? Two years ago, he ended the season at No. 606 in the Official World Golf Ranking. A year ago this week he was No. 291 and he cracked the top 100 after his Byron Nelson win. After a fifth-place tie at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, he moved inside the top 60 to earn a U.S. Open exemption. Now he’s trying to become the first man in a century (since Francis Ouimet in 1913) to win the U.S. Open in his first start.
“I think there’s familiarity with the area,” said Todd, who played his high school golf in Cary, N.C., often competing against 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson. “I’ve played pretty much all my competitive golf in the Southeast of the U.S., so I’m really comfortable on bermudagrass. I really like bermuda fairways, and the greens are rolling really well. I feel really good on this course.”
Todd doesn’t plan to alter his game plan for the third round.
“I hope I get a little bit better every day,” said Todd, a former University of Georgia standout who led the Bulldogs to the 2005 NCAA title. “I can go out there and hit a couple more quality shots tomorrow, make one extra putt, shoot maybe 3 or 4 under again, if the conditions are similar. What Martin does really doesn’t affect what I do until maybe the back nine on Sunday.”
Like Todd, Na also recently moved inside the top 60 of the OWGR after losing a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama at the Memorial. But in his three U.S. Opens, he had two missed cuts (2010 and 2011) and a tie for 29th in 2012. In fact, he had never shot lower than 71 in eight rounds before going 68-69 the past two days. Yet the 30-year-old from Las Vegas finds himself tied for third with Snedeker, seven strokes back.
“I think I’ve matured everywhere on and off the golf course,” said Na, owner of five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2014. “That’s shown in my game. I’m a lot happier person on and off the golf course, regardless of whether I play well or bad. I think that’s shown out on the golf course and to the people.””
This weekend, he and the other pursuers just might have to play the golf of their life to catch Kaymer.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.