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Kaymer Running Away with U.S. Open

By: Jeff Shelley


Though there are 36 holes left, the field in the 114th U.S. Open has some major catching up to do this weekend. Eighteen-hole leader Martin Kaymer followed up a 5-under 65 with the same score Friday - the second straight day he's recorded the championship's lowest round - at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.

After posting six birdies and a bogey Thursday, the 29-year-old from Dusseldorf, Germany, enjoyed a flawless Friday with five birdies and 13 pars to reach 10-under 130, six strokes ahead of American Brendon Todd, who's shot rounds of 69 and 67, and seven ahead of Kevin Na (69) and Brandt Snedeker (68).

With just one dropped shot so far, Kaymer's 36-hole total is the best halfway mark in U.S. Open history, edging the previous record of 11-under 131 set by Rory McIlroy in 2011 at par-71 Congressional.

Though Kaymer is well ahead of the pack, the 2010 PGA champion cautioned there's plenty of golf still to play. "It's not a done deal," he told reporters afterward. "You don't approach Saturday and Sunday in a relaxed way. There's never a time where you can relax. Unless it's Sunday afternoon and you're raising the trophy, then you can relax. Until then, you've got to keep playing."

Kaymer's game has been on the rise ever since he won the Players Championship last month for his first victory since the Nedbank Golf Challenge on South Africa's Sunshine Tour in December 2012.

His rebound from the long drought has been worth the extra work he's put in. "It's very, very satisfying," Kaymer said of his recent play. "There were a couple of shots today; I was surprised at how good they were. I'm just hitting the ball very solid right now." (See below for Kaymer's full post-round interview.)

Sitting 10 strokes back of Kaymer, No. 1-ranked Adam Scott - who followed up a 73 with a fine 67 Friday - complimented the German. "It's great golf for Martin," the Aussie said. "When you're playing like that, you want to just keep it going. For him to come out today and back it up is super. If he does it for two more days, then we're all playing for second spot."

Also impressed with the U.S. Open pacesetter is Todd. "Kaymer's performance has been incredible," said the 28-year-old Pennsylvanian, one of eight University of Georgia Bulldogs in the 2014 championship. "He's playing a brand of golf that we haven't seen probably in a long time, since maybe Tiger (Woods). Yeah, probably, he might need to come back a little bit. I don't think there's too many - too much opportunity to shoot 6-under on the weekend or 8-under on the weekend if he were to get a couple more.

"We're going to go out and do our best. We really have to capitalize on the holes you have a wedge or a par-5, where we might get up by the green in two. And hope he doesn't play his best brand of golf."

Na said all he can do is focus on his game, not what Kaymer does. "I can't change my strategy," said the 30-year-old Na, who was born in South Korea and is a long-time resident of Las Vegas. "I just got to take what I get and play my game and hopefully I can close the gap and a play some pressure.

"If Martin goes out and shoots under par for 36 holes, again, just under par, and stays in double figures, hat's off to him. Deserves it."

Sharing fifth at 138 are Brooks Koepka (68), Dustin Johnson (69), Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge (70), Keegan Bradley (69) and Sweden's Henrik Stenson (69).

Tied for 10th at 139 - the only other players under par on the par-70, Donald Ross-designed course - are Matt Kuchar (70), Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy (68), Chris Kirk (68) and Jordan Spieth (139).

Mclroy, who in 2011 went on to win by a record-setting eight strokes, later gave some advice to Kaymer. "If I was Martin, hopefully I would be thinking about how to get seven ahead and then how to get eight ahead and then how to get nine ahead," the 25-year-old Ulsterman told the media. "It's not something that you, especially on a golf course like this, you can go out trying to protect anything.

"You just got to keep - keep the foot to the floor, foot to the mat and just keep it going. If he's comfortable out here and making birdies, then that's what you should still be thinking of. 10-under par is an incredible total after 36 holes, and if he can hold on to that 10-under total, he's going to win this tournament."

Sharing 14th at even-par 140 with Scott are Francesco Molinari (71), Erik Compton (68), Ian Poulter (70), Hideki Matsuyama (71) and Rickie Fowler (70).

The low 60 scores and ties made the 36-hole cut of 5-over 145. Among those going on to the weekend are defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who followed up his opening 72 with a 69; 49-year-old Fran Quinn, who electrified the gallery Thursday with his 15-year-old son Owen as his caddie and carded a 74 after opening with a 68; 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell; 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson; five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who's shot rounds of 70 and 73; two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els; two South African major winners - Louis Oosthuizen and Retief Goosen; and the oldest player in the tournament, 53-year-old Kenny Perry.

Mickelson said he's been happy with all aspects of his game, except his putting. Lefty, who got off to a rousing start with birdies on two of his first three holes, came home with a disappointing five bogeys the rest of the way. He used a claw grip in the first round of the U.S. Open but switched back to his conventional grip Friday. It didn't help.

"The hole looks like a thimble to me right now and I'm having trouble finding it," he said glumly.

"I feel like I'm playing well enough to win the U.S. Open, except for putting. And that's not a - it's kind of the same story. After I've three-putted three or four times, I kind of lose my focus on the other stuff. It really affects my ability to concentrate and my momentum and energy. It's a frustrating time, because I feel like the other parts of my game are there . . . I don't feel like the stroke is bad, but I'm just not dialed in. I'm just not making them."

On a Friday the 13th involving oddities beyond Kaymer's continued evisceration of a U.S. Open venue, Hunter Mahan and his playing partner Jamie Donaldson each hit the other's golf ball. The gaffe happened on the 18th hole. Each player received a two-stroke penalty and took a double-bogey. Mahan finished with a 72 and the Welshman Donaldson an 81.

The error was particularly painful for Mahan, who finished 36-holes at 6-over 146, just below the cut line. Donaldson, who opened with a promising 70, ended up well down the leaderboard and also won't be playing the final two rounds.

"I've played a lot of rounds of golf now and it's happened maybe one time before," Mahan said. "It's a fluke thing. I couldn't tell you how or why it happened or - it was crazy."

Mahan's caddie, John Wood, was aghast at the mistake. Both players use Titleists, and they each mark their ball with a similar slash. "It was 100 percent on me," Wood told PGATour.com. "You can't imagine yourself doing something so colossally stupid as that, but I did it. It's hard to believe. I don't believe I did something that epically dumb."

During another strange moment, this time on the par-3 15th hole, Mickelson hit his tee shot to about 12 feet below the cup, where the ball plugged in the green. Because he couldn't get the ball to stop after fixing the indentation and marking his ball, Mickelson was forced to move it equidistant to the hole until he could find a flatter spot, setting up a much curvier putt to his left. He missed the birdie try and took a par.

Then Kuchar, 3-under at the time on his 15th hole (the par-3 sixth as he started play on the 10th tee), thought his ball moved as he addressed his par putt, which he missed. After consulting with an official, it was determined that Kuchar should hit two bogey putts - from a short distance, with a possible penalty to be assessed after the round. Officials later ruled there was no rules infringement, so Kuchar got a bogey.

"Ball moved," Kuchar explained to reporters later. "It was a matter of determining whether or not I addressed it. I was confident I had not addressed it. Lee Westwood was standing right there, waiting on a five-foot putt, confident the same way. Just had to go through the procedure and it's just - it's not a fun thing. When the ball moves, you kind of know that if you have addressed it, you have to replace it with a penalty.

"If you haven't addressed it, you leave it. And so we called in a walking rules official and he says, not really sure, and we come to the decision that I said let's play two balls and we can discuss it afterwards. And in the discussion afterwards, we came to the same conclusion that I had not addressed it and not caused it to move either."

Among the more notable players heading home are two-time Masters' winner Bubba Watson, who couldn't overcome an opening 76, and major winners Charl Schwartzel, Jason Dufner, Angel Cabrera, Darren Clarke, Geoff Ogilvy, David Toms, Lucas Glover and Y.E. Yang. Fifty-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez also missed the cut.

Matthew Fitzpatrick of England is the only amateur left to play the weekend after rounds of 71 and 73. Australia's Oliver Goss, who also opened with a 71, ballooned to an 83 to drop well down the leaderboard.

For all the scores, visit http://www.usopen.com/en_US/scoring/index.html.

After signing his scorecard, Kaymer met with reporters and discussed his day. Here's what he had to say.

MODERATOR: Welcome to the 2014 U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort and Golf Country Club. We're very pleased to have with us this afternoon Martin Kaymer of Germany who shot his second consecutive 5-under 65 on Pinehurst's No. 2 course today. He's currently 10-under and holds an eight-stroke lead. Through two rounds Martin has made 11 birdies and one bogey. His 36-hole total of 10-under is the lowest score for the first 36 holes at a U.S. Open. The previous record was 131 by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011.

In addition, at 10-under par, he becomes the sixth player in U.S. Open history to reach double digits under par, joining Gil Morgan began in 1992, Tiger Woods in 2000, Jim Furyk in 2003, Rick Barnes in 2009, and Rory McIlroy in 2011. In addition, he joins Rory McIlroy as the only players to be double digits under par through 36 holes at a U.S. Open. Martin, can you talk a little bit about the success you've had so far and certainly the back-to-back 5-under 65s.

MARTIN KAYMER: Yeah, that was a lot of success so far the last two rounds. I played very solid again, very similar to yesterday. The last three, four holes I got a little bit tired, I didn't swing it as good as the first 14 holes, but I could make a couple good up-and-downs, especially on 6 and 7. I was twice in the bunker there. Made a good 2-putt on 8. That was along and difficult first putt. The way I play golf right now, it's just really satisfying. It's very solid, not many mistakes, not that many wild tee shots or anything.

MODERATOR: We'll open it right up to questions.

Q. You said earlier that you turned to your caddie a couple times and said you were surprised at how well certain shots ended up. Do you remember which specific shots those were and what it was about them that surprised you?

MARTIN KAYMER: Yeah, that was the shot on 4, it was a long par-4 and I hit a good tee shot down the fairway. And then I you think I had 211 or 212 yards and I needed a high draw with a 6-iron to get it close to the flag. But I didn't really want to get to the flag because the middle of the green there is fine. If you make four, it's a good score. But actually a high draw came and I hit it to 12 feet and all of a sudden you have a birdie chance and I was not expecting to leave myself such a good shot.

And I said to him, I mean, that's quite nice that happened. And then we got to the green and it's actually a good chance to make three. And if you make three on the fourth hole, you almost made up a shot and a half. So a couple of those things that happened today. I don't know what to say. It's just very, very solid. It gets boring the words that I use, but I mean there's not much to say. It's just good right now the way I play golf.

Q. Yesterday you said to us not to expect another 65. So what happened?

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, 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 today. 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.

Q. What should we expect tomorrow?

MARTIN KAYMER: I tell you hopefully when I'm sitting here tomorrow afternoon again.

Q. What would you rather hit out of - this native area or six-inch rough?

MARTIN KAYMER: This native what? The berries?

MODERATOR: Would you rather hit out of the native areas or six-inch rough?

MARTIN KAYMER: Oh, neither one. (Laughter.) But I actually like the way it plays now. Obviously, I didn't play in 2005. So for me, it's very difficult to compare it, but I actually enjoy a different U.S. Open right now. We have played -- usually the U.S. Open is you know coming to the golf tournament it's going to be tight fairways, thick rough, fast greens, and this week it's little bit different. I think for us Europeans, or especially the guys from the U.K., we're more used to playing those golf courses than the thick rough and long fairway or long holes with tight fairways. So I think it's a little bit of a favor for the European players, because we are used to playing those golf courses more.

Q. I'm sure you didn't expect when you started this tournament to be having an eight-shot or six-shot or whatever it may be at the end of the day lead. How does that change your thinking going forward? That's the first question.

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, hopefully not at all. Because if you think of the defending anything, then you're pulling back, and that's never, never really a good thing. I was trying to do the same thing at Sawgrass, even though I was leading after the first day, I don't know, about two or three I was leading. You just want to keep going, you want to keep playing. You want to challenge yourself. If you can hit or if you can stay aggressive and hit the right shots, and that's quite nice that it's a battle against yourself. Obviously, there are a lot of guys who want to win the golf tournament, but I can't do anything about that, that they make birdies, eagles, bogeys, whatever.

But I can change my mindset, I can challenge myself how to play the golf course and that keeps me busy. I look at the scoreboards, it's enjoyable. To see what's going on, to watch yourself, how you react, if you're leading by five, by six, now I'm leading by eight, but by the end of the day maybe I lead only by two or three or maybe we're tied or something. I don't know, but it's quite nice to play golf that way.

Q. Can you remember how Congressional was, what it felt like to see Rory building such a big lead after 36 holes? And did that give you any sense of appreciation how the rest of the guys feel right now?

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, I mean obviously I played Congressional and I thought, I mean how can you shoot that low? And that's probably what a lot of other people think about me right now. But it will be quite interesting to talk to Rory about it, how he felt. It's not like we play different golf course or easier golf courses, it's just, I'm sure he must have played so solid without making many mistakes and that I think is the main thing in majors, that you avoid the big numbers. And today I didn't make any mistakes. I didn't make any bogeys. So therefore, if you putt well, you can make up some ground or in my case today I could keep going. So it's just very good golf. There's not much to say about it.

Q. Given that the World Cup is going on, what do you think the reaction is back in Germany to what you're doing here and what could be possible by the end of Sunday?

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, I'm actually glad that Germany starts on Monday. 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. Even though they talk about the preparation probably every single minute or hour about the national team is doing, which is fair enough. Football is our biggest sport and I can't wait to watch the first game when they play against Portugal on Monday. So it's a little bit of a side sport right now. 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 there's never really a chance to challenge the national team. It is what it is.

Q. If you win?

MARTIN KAYMER: If I win? It will last probably until Monday, 12 o'clock, and then that's it. (Laughter.)

Q. Obviously the circumstances at Sawgrass on Sunday were different, with the delays and whatnot, but can you speak to whatever you learned in closing that tournament and do you feel like you are a good closer, can you kind of describe what a closing mentality would be?

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, I think the main thing is when you lead a golf tournament, everybody has to figure it out himself, how he handles those situations. But in an ideal world, I think you just want to keep playing, because obviously if you're leading by one round or after two or three rounds, you must play good golf. So the only thing that can really distract you is your mind. Obviously you can have a day where you don't swing it as good as the day before, everybody has that, and it's very, very difficult to play four rounds of great golf. I'm sure there is going to be a day here and there where you struggle.

But then it becomes really important that you stay with it and accept a couple bogeys here and there, but that you don't shoot yourself out of the tournament and don't get mad at yourself and that you don't compare. The comparing is, I think, the biggest mistake can you do, especially if you're playing - obviously, last two rounds they were great and they were very exceptional, so comparing is never really good. So it's important that you set new goals and challenge yourself on the golf course and keep playing. Because it's fun to play for the U.S. Open under difficult circumstances. And for me playing in a different country, again, it's exciting, it's really nice.

Q. Knowing that the course was going to be a little soft today after the rain last night and that you would have the morning smooth greens, did part of you think going out, I have a chance to really open up something by shooting a number and were you consciously thinking about that?

MARTIN KAYMER: No, actually, I thought the golf course would play a little bit more difficult, because it would play longer. Because I thought it was going to be wet and you don't get much roll, so therefore you have - instead of yesterday when you hit 8- or 7-irons into the par-4s, that you would have 5- or 4-irons today. But it didn't play as long. It was very, very scoreable and you need to adjust a little bit on a golf course, again that it's very playable, that they had some holes where you could make birdie or where you should make birdie.

The drivable par-4 today, the third, then you have the fifth hole, it was really important to take advantage of those ones. But approaching the day, I thought it was going to be long and difficult. Again, you need to - 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 go too aggressive or why should I go out on the golf course and say maybe I can get a lead by five or six shots? I'm only pressuring myself. If I lead by four or five shots, that's great. But 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.

Q. How would you describe Keegan's pre-shot routine?

MARTIN KAYMER: Who? Sorry.

Q. Keegan Bradley's pre-shot routine, how would you describe it?

MARTIN KAYMER: Different. (Laughter.) Not a nice question, I can only lose here. I mean, it's not easy to play with Keegan; I must admit that. Because sometimes he takes a little bit more time and sometimes he takes a little bit less time, so it's quite difficult to adjust. But we know that. I played with Keegan the last few years many times, so we know that his pre-shot routine can change. Yes.

Q. What is the goal you will set yourself tomorrow so that you don't compare whatever you do tomorrow to what you've done the first two rounds?

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, I don't need to set any goals. I just wait for what the afternoon will do. 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.

Q. We asked him if he thought 10-under was going to be leading, he thought 10-over could actually win at the end of the week when he was playing the practice rounds. What did you think the winning score would be?

MARTIN KAYMER: The winning score will be?

Q. Before.

MARTIN KAYMER: Yeah, I mean I got asked on Wednesday afternoon, I said that yesterday, what score I would take and I said 8-over par. I wouldn't take it anymore, obviously, but the golf course played that much more difficult on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. So today and yesterday, it was very playable and it was - there were chances. And what I said yesterday, I watched golf in the morning and I thought, you know, actually, there are some birdies. It's not always middle of the green and wait if you make a long putt.

So it's a lot more playable than I thought. But what the winning score is, you know, I don't know what the USGA is going to do, sometimes they offer some surprises. If it doesn't rain anymore, they can make it really, really difficult. And that would be nice. I like to play golf courses that are difficult, where it's not a putting competition, where you have to hit quality, good golf shots. So, yeah, where you have to keep it together.

Q. From the fairway on the fifth hole, you had a pretty long conversation with your caddie before going for the green, were you considering laying up there?

MARTIN KAYMER: You're serious? No, I don't lay up. There's no water, so there's no reason to lay up. I mean I hit, I actually had a fairly good yardage, a little tricky lie. I was standing underneath the ball a little bit, but from the sandy lie. But with a wood, it's okay because you swipe it more instead of hitting deep into the sand. I actually thought I can get it to the back edge of the green. But I didn't get that, but I made four. But I'm not laying up when I can get to the green.

Q. You said earlier on the last three or four holes that you got a little tired. I saw you after those couple of approach shots and it looked like you were looking at your hand. I wondered if you hurt yourself in any way and also I wondered whether you might have gotten a little self conscious. You were 10-under, like all of a sudden you were thinking more about it at that point.

MARTIN KAYMER: I mean, that's a perfect example of what I said yesterday, that people put thoughts in your head. You know, that I probably might think about where I am right now. Yes, I'm thinking about it, but it's all positive. It's a good thing. It doesn't distract me. It's nothing to do with anything, I just enjoy having that chance right now. I'm healthy, I'm feeling good about my game. I'm tired, which is normal, if you come from Europe. And the heat, wearing black, it doesn't help, but it's all fine, yeah.

Q. You talked about the USGA has the opportunity to make things more difficult. One of the things that there is not much said about is hole locations. Talk about how difficult you thought the hole locations were in the first couple of days, and with the lead, on the weekend. If you will get more severe locations, do you play a little more conservative course management? Play more to the middle of the greens?

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, the first two days I think the pin positions were okay. They were not too difficult. They were not too easy. But on those greens you never have easy pin positions, really. There were a couple borderline flags today, I thought, where you had to really know that you can place the ball out there to have a realistic birdie chance. You had to be very careful that you don't putt it off the green as well. The first hole, I think it's a very tough pin. If you miss it right or if you - if the putt goes past the hole a little bit, it could easily go off the green. In the next two days, it really -- the pin positions, when it gets firm, they don't matter anymore. It's all about middle of the green. If it gets firm, then we have to play the same way that we played Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

Q. Yesterday you said that one of the keys to your success is that you stopped working on technique in March and April. I was wondering if you could explain what stopping working on technique means in your case and what that process was like.

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, working on my technique, I was trying to get my swing more neutral the last couple years. Finally, I think I swing it the way I want to. Not quite, but I'm getting very close. Obviously, the way I play golf right now, I shouldn't think too much about technique, I'm very happy the way I hit the ball. I can hit any shot whenever I need it. So it would only be distracting myself from focusing on the main thing if I would focus too much on the technique. When I'm on the range and practice before the rounds or after the rounds, obviously you work on certain things. Every player does that. They have their three or four swing thoughts, you work on that, and that's it. But during play, I don't need to think much anymore, which is quite nice. And I had to do that the last couple years in order to progress.

Q. Obviously there's 36 to play, but can you speak a little bit to -- I'm sure you probably thought ahead about winning a second major and what that mean. I know you're still a young guy, but can you talk about what a second major victory could mean in terms of your stature in the game and how important that is to you.

MARTIN KAYMER: Well, in my books, I won a second major already with the Players. It's a career goal to win first to win one major. Fortunately, I got that done fairly early in my career. But I really believe at the end of the day, that by the end of your career it comes down to the big, huge moments that you - where you could handle the challenges. And it comes down to winning majors, World Golf Championship events, being on the Ryder Cup team, like those things. Obviously if I could win another second, third, fourth major, whatever it's going to be, it would be very, very satisfying.

That is what you want in your career when you want to look back, because it adds a lot of satisfaction, just thinking and talking about the PGA Championship, about the Ryder Cup, about the Players, those are huge moments and it makes you grow as a person a lot and not only as a golf player. But what you said, after 36 holes, I mean, anything can happen over the next two days. So hopefully I can talk to you on Saturday and Sunday in a positive way, so we'll see.

MODERATOR: Before we let you go, would you mind again running through your birdies today for the group here. Clubs and yardages.

MARTIN KAYMER: Sure. So I started on 10. Yeah, I hit a driver to the waste area on the right side that was actually an okay lie and laid up with a 3-iron, had 125 yards. Hit a gap wedge to four or five feet. Uphill right-to-left. Made the putt. 13, I hit an awkward yardage from the fairway, but I hit a nice high draw with an 8-iron from the middle of the green and a tried to make a put from 18, 20 feet, which was a bonus, I thought. 16, hit a very, very nice drive into the fairway, hit a 7-iron to the middle of the green and made that putt. That was a big bonus again. No. 3.

Q. 20, 25 feet?

MARTIN KAYMER: On 16? Yeah, it was a little bit longer than the one on 13, probably 25 feet, yeah. Then on 3, I hit the driver from the tee, hit the green, 2-putted for birdie. Then on 5, hit a 3-wood from the fairway, to the front of the green, and good 2-putt.

Q. Which of the last three par saves was the best, do you think?

MARTIN KAYMER: 7, that par save was a very easy bunker shot, you're actually thinking about making this one. On 8, there was a 2-putt. It was a tough 2-putt, but it was, it's very doable. But the bunker shot on 6, it was a sneaky one. It was a good lie and I had a lot of room to work with on the green, but you can hit it fat and let it release to the hole, but there was that little ridge and it could go either way. And I decided to play it all the way there. It was a very good bunker shot. I left myself only three feet uphill. So it was a good save.

MODERATOR: Congratulations again on two wonderful rounds. We wish you well this weekend.

MARTIN KAYMER: Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.