Martin Kaymer has a three-shot lead after the first round at golf’s U.S. Open, where his 5-under-par 65 was the lowest score of the three championships held at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course in North Carolina.
Kaymer, a 29-year-old German and former No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, made three birdies over the final five holes yesterday to better the 66 shot by Peter Hedblom in the second round of the 2005 U.S. Open. The season’s second major championship was also held at Pinehurst in 1999.
Kaymer, who said he gained confidence after his win at last month’s Players Championship, is three shots ahead of Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Brendon de Jonge of South Africa and Americans Kevin Na and Fran Quinn, all of whom shot 68 yesterday. Kaymer’s 65 came on a day the average first-round score at Pinehurst’s reworked No. 2 course was 73.2 and only 15 of the 156 players shot below par.
“It’s only the first round and usually the golf course only gets more difficult,” Kaymer said. “So I think if you stay around level par, you can’t be that far away from winning the golf tournament. It’s nice to lead right now.”
Six-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson is at even par, five shots behind Kaymer.
“It’s a good start,” said the 43-year-old Mickelson, who needs a U.S. Open win to complete the career Grand Slam with victories in all four majors. “I didn’t hurt myself any. I had a chance to get 3, 4, 5 under today had I made some makeable opportunities. But I didn’t throw anything away.”
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Americans Brendon Todd and Harris English are the other players tied at 1 under after 69s yesterday. The 15 players under par after the opening round are the most at a U.S. Open since 2011, when 21 broke par at Congressional Country Club in Washington. Five players were below par a year ago after day one at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia, and six were in red numbers entering the second round at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in 2012.
“It was more playable than I thought,” Kaymer, who won the 2010 PGA Championship and was ranked No. 1 for two weeks in 2011, said of the new-look Pinehurst. “That made a big difference mentally that you feel like that there are actually some birdies out there, not only bogeys.”
Kaymer’s 65 matched the lowest U.S. Open first-round score since Mike Weir started with a 64 in 2009. Before yesterday, his opening-round scoring average at the U.S. Open was 74.8.
In the 114-year U.S. Open history, 20 players who have held at least a share of the first-round lead have gone on to win the tournament. The last was Rory McIlroy in 2011, when he also had a three-shot lead after 18 holes. Kaymer will start his second round at 8:02 a.m. local time today.
Pinehurst’s 107-year-old No. 2 course recently underwent a $2.5 million renovation to remove more than 40 acres of Bermuda grass, reducing maintenance costs and returning the Donald Ross design to its original rustic playing conditions.
The resort and the U.S. Golf Association, which is staging the men’s and women’s Opens at the venue over the next two weeks, has taken to calling the barren grounds “natural areas.” McDowell called it a second-shot golf course, with very difficult green complexes, and said first-round conditions weren’t as firm and fast as they had could have been.
While the field’s first-round scoring average was more than three strokes over par, it was the lowest for the opening day at the U.S. Open since 2003 at Olympia Fields (72.68).
“You don’t have to strike it amazing around here, you just have to position the ball correctly at all times,” said McDowell, who won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
McIlroy, who is the oddsmakers’ favorite to win the U.S. Open without Tiger Woods in the field, shot a 1-over par 71 yesterday. Adam Scott of Australia, the 2013 Masters winner and the second-favorite ahead of Mickelson, opened with a 73 and trails Kaymer by eight shots.
Defending champion Justin Rose of England, playing in the same group as Mickelson, opened with a 2-over 72 that included four bogeys over his first nine holes. The last golfer to win consecutive U.S. Open titles was Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
Masters winner Bubba Watson shot a 76, with one birdie, five bogeys and a double bogey.
“Around here it’s hard to visualize some of the shots that I want to hit, and so for me it’s difficult,” Watson said. “I didn’t putt very well, I didn’t chip well from around the greens. To shoot a couple over is not too bad, but to shoot 6 over is not where you want to be after one day.”
Mickelson has won five major championships, including three at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, yet is winless in 23 previous U.S. Open appearances. He had the first of his record six second-place finishes in the tournament at Pinehurst in 1999, when he lost to the late Payne Stewart on the final hole. Mickelson got to 2 under yesterday before making bogeys on two of his final four holes.
“This golf course is a course where I get a similar feeling that I get at Augusta where I don’t have to be perfect,” said Mickelson, among today’s afternoon starters with a 1:36 p.m. tee time. “I can miss shots. I can miss greens and still get up and down. I always have a chance.”
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