PINEHURST, N.C. – We’ve reached the midway point of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 with Martin Kaymer in total control. Kaymer’s second round 65 put him at 10 under par for the tournament and sends him to the weekend with a six-shot lead over Brendon Todd and a seven-shot cushion over two others. Still, there’s plenty of golf left and to catch you up on Friday’s action, here are nine nuggets of news, insight and analysis.
1) Kaymer is dialed in, playing the brand of golf everyone shoots for.
It’s not just the back-to-back 65s that the 29-year-old German has posted that are so impressive. It’s the easygoing deportment he’s carried himself with through the first 36 holes, totally at ease with everything around him.
His swing: like clockwork.
His decisions: shrewd.
His ability to handle potential distractions: top-notch.
Consider that Kaymer played his first two rounds as part of a threesome that included Keegan Bradley. Bradley, who’s in a tie for fifth at 2 under, has that quirky and somewhat goofy pre-shot routine. There are lunges and dance steps and all sorts of odd movements.
Kaymer was asked about Bradley’s moves Friday afternoon and laughed.
“Not a nice question,” he said with a smile. “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.”
Just not this week. Kaymer hasn’t had difficulty adjusting to anything.
After Friday, there have now been 1,238 U.S. Open rounds completed on Pinehurst No. 2 including the 1999 and 2005 tournaments here. Only one player has managed to shoot 65. It’s Kaymer. And he’s now done it on consecutive days.
He feels so in rhythm that even his good shots have been turning out great. On the 523-yard par 4 fourth hole Friday, Kaymer faced an approach from 212 yards. He pulled a 6-iron and realized he’d have to hit a high draw to get back at the flag.
“But I didn’t really want to get to the flag,” Kaymer said, “because the middle of the green there is fine.. If you make four, it’s a good score.”
So he aimed at the middle of the green and swung. And there was a high draw, a shot better than Kaymer was even planning for. It stopped 12 feet from the hole.
“All of a sudden you have a birdie chance,” Kaymer said. “I was not expecting to leave myself such a good shot.”
He didn’t make the putt. But it was a microcosm of how in tune things have been this weekend. Now he takes a commanding six-shot lead to the weekend.
2) Upstart Brendon Todd pushed himself into Saturday’s final pairing.
A few basics on Todd, who has carded rounds of 69 and 67 to push himself into second place alone at 4 under. He’ll turn 29 next month. He played his college golf at Georgia. And his first and only PGA Tour win came last month at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
Todd also has a pair of Web.com tour wins on his resume. But perhaps most notably, he was a high school star in North Carolina, winning three individual state championships. He also spent much of his youth playing golf in and around Pinehurst. So there’s an at-home feeling brewing here this week.
Todd is also hoping his experience playing in the final group at the Byron Nelson and winning will be helpful.
“This is a major, a little bigger stage,” he said. “But now that I have played so well over the last month, I’m a little more comfortable than I was before. I think it’s going to feel pretty similar if I can just go out there and remain calm.”
3) Remove Kaymer from the tournament and the 36-hole leaderboard would have plenty of additional intrigue.
Yes, Kaymer has that commanding lead and has seemingly sucked all the drama out of the tournament heading to the weekend. But of the 13 players at even par or better, there are still plenty of notable names. A group at 2-under par includes Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson. A shot back of them sit Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth.
McIlroy’s second-round 68 puts him in the hunt somewhat. He hasn’t been spectacular to this point. But with three birdies and only one bogey Friday, he was pleased with his survival skills.
“When I missed a shot today, I missed it in the right place and was able to get it up and down,” McIlroy said.
His aim for the final two days is to perhaps replicate Friday’s effort. Two more 68s, he noted, would get him to 5 under for the championship. That could give him a chance.
4) McIlroy knows what Kaymer must have been feeling sitting on a six-stroke lead after two rounds at the U.S. Open.
Only three players have ever known that feeling. Kaymer, McIlroy in 2011 at Congressional and Tiger Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach. Both McIlroy and Woods kept their foot to the gas and wound up registering runaway victories.
So that was what McIlroy was advising for Kaymer as the leader heads for Saturday’s third round.
“You need that mentality that you’re not trying to protect,” McIlroy said. “You’re not happy with (a six-shot lead). You want to get it to seven, you want to get to eight.”
For what it’s worth, a few months before his triumph at Congressional, McIlroy had a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the 2011 Masters but grew too tense, too defensive. He came apart, shot a final round 80 and wound up in 15th.
Kaymer seemed to have himself dialed in for the proper weekend mindset when he finished his Friday round. Asked how the size of his lead would change his mindset for Saturday, Kaymer shrugged.
“Hopefully not at all,” he said. “Because if you think of defending anything, then you’re pulling back. And that’s never, never really a good thing.”
5) If you’re looking for the biggest reason Phil Mickelson is unlikely to complete the career Grand Slam this weekend, look no further than his putter.
Yep, you read that right. Mickelson’s once-trusty putting stroke has become quite unreliable. Yippy. Sometimes hard to watch.
That became obvious once again on the par 3 6th hole Friday afternoon when Mickelson hit his tee shot to the front of the green but then three-putted for a bogey that dropped him out of the second place slot on the leaderboard. Mickelson’s par miss was from inside 5 feet and lipped out.
He missed another short putt for another bogey two holes later and still hasn’t found his rhythm or touch on the greens.
Through two rounds, Mickelson ranks 135th in this U.S. Open field in putting. He’s needed 65 putts to this point and hiccupped to four three-putts on Friday.
Now his chances of winning his first U.S. Open and completing the career Grand Slam seem slimmer than his caddie Bones Mackay.
“I’m not overly optimistic,” Mickelson admitted.
It’s clear Mickelson is not confident with where things are.
After Thursday’s opening round, he talked about reconfiguring his eye alignment over the ball to get a better view of putts. And at the tail end of last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, he opted to change to a claw grip on his putts. He stayed with that approaching coming to Pinehurst with a goal, on greens he expected to be fast and treacherous, of having “a little bit lighter grip pressure to create a softer roll so that I get some of the hit out of it.”
“I just have been a little bit too poppy, if you will,” Mickelson had said Tuesday. “I've been popping at it and not making a long kind of smooth, brush stroke.”
The claw grip, Mickelson insisted would only be temporary, a push to “get the feel and flow back.”
But he started transitioning back to his normal putting grip and stroke Friday and yet neither the feel nor the flow are back. Now he sits in a group in 33rd place at 3 over.
And even after making early birdie putts at the second and third holes Friday, Mickelson couldn’t sustain the momentum.
“It’s a frustrating thing for me,” Mickelson said. “It’s a very important part of the game. … Whenever you putt and you make short ones, you make those 5- or 6-footers and you’re running a couple 20-footers in, the game feels easy.”
“The hole looks like a thimble to me right now,” Mickelson said. “I’m having a hard time finding it.”
6) One group of heavyweights is splitting up after two days playing together.
Brendon DeJonge positioned himself up the leaderboard through the first two rounds with scores of 68 and 70, pushing him into a current five-way tie for fifth, eight shots back of Kaymer. DeJonge played the first two rounds as part of one of the tournament’s hard-to-miss threesomes, joining Kevin Stadler and Shane Lowry in a group that was a bit, well, plumper than the others.
It’s no secret that the UGSA likes to get creative with its groupings to produce interesting and entertaining subplots. So everyone could read between the lines of what the intent was in pairing the 230-pound DeJonge with Stadler (250 pounds) and Lowry (225).
In comments to the Golf Channel earlier in the week, Lowry admitted taking a bit of offense to the grouping.
“I think it’s very cheeky of the USGA to do what they’ve done,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the three of us. It’s a mockery, to be honest.”
Stadler called the move “mean and insensitive” and accused the USGA of “invoking their 5-year-old sense of humor.”
DeJonge was less rankled.
“I was actually pretty amused by it,” he said.
Stadler’s two-day total of 5-over 145 slid him just inside the top 60 cut line. Lowry, at 6 over, is headed home.
For the record, with weekend pairing determined by score, DeJonge will go off at 2:52 p.m. local time Saturday with the 190-pound Bradley at his side. Stadler, at 10:06 a.m., gets 200-pound Clayton Rask.
7) The USGA got crafty with the tees at the third hole, then buckled in to watch how things would unfold on the short part 4.
Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, has always liked fiddling with the tee boxes at No. 3, intrigued by the kind of set-up he used Friday where he pushed the tee box up to 315 yards and gave players an option to try and drive the green. It’s the kind of risk-reward scenario Davis loves, especially with such a narrow opening to the domed green and three relatively imposing bunkers to the right, left and front.
In Thursday’s opening round, No. 3 played at 391 yards and yielded 11 birdies against 30 scores of bogey or worse. Friday? Seventy-five birdies and an eagle against 12 bogeys or worse.
For what it’s worth, Kaymer managed to drive that green and delivered an easy two-putt birdie.
8) Only one amateur made the cut Friday.
Twelve amateurs began competition Thursday. But only 19-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick punched a ticket to the weekend. Fitzpatrick delivered rounds of 71 and 73 and is in a tie for 44th at 4 over. But even with his youth, his low amateur accomplishment comes with a footnote. Even before the tournament, Fitzpatrick had targeted this U.S. Open as his final event as an amateur. He will turn pro next week and start cashing checks from there.
Another amateur who was in position to see the weekend at Pinehurst No. 2 was Brian Campbell, who plays his college golf at the University of Illinois. Campbell was inside the cut line until making a bogey on his final hole, the 169-yard par 3 ninth to slip to 6 over.
9) Looking for the goofiest sequence of Friday's second round? It came from 45-year-old Ken Duke at the 169-yard par 3 9th hole.
Duke’s tee shot was only a tad off line, but took a bit of an angry bounce, burying deep into a thick clump of wire grass above a sand trap left of the green. After assessing his possibilities – or lack thereof – for several minutes, Duke had little hope. So his best option, he and his caddie decided, was to use the toe of his putter to hit a croquet shot sideways into the sand.
“Just needed something with a square edge to get it going back in the bunker,” Duke said.
His biggest hope?
“I'm a pretty good bunker player. We were just trying to make four,” Duke admitted.
He did one better, holing the shot out of the bunker for a par. It was a nice moment. But Duke shot a 72 Friday and missed the cut at 7 over.
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