Martin Kaymer took a record-tying six-stroke lead into the weekend at golf’s U.S. Open, where one of his closest pursuers wondered if the former world No. 1 had been playing a different course than the rest of the field at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.
Kaymer shot a second straight 5-under-par 65 yesterday at the revamped Pinehurst No. 2 course and has made just one bogey over the first 36 holes at the season’s second major championship. His total of 10-under 130 is the lowest through two rounds in the U.S. Open’s 114-year history.
The 29-year-old German tied the record 36-hole U.S. Open lead set by Tiger Woods in 2000 and equaled by Rory McIlroy in 2011. Woods had that advantage at Pebble Beach Golf Links and won by 15, while McIlroy held on at Congressional Country Club for a three-shot win and his first major title. McIlroy had the previous U.S. Open 36-hole low of 131 three years ago.
“I played Congressional and I thought, ‘How can you shoot that low?’” Kaymer said. “And that’s probably what a lot of other people think about me right now.”
Kaymer took advantage of rain-softened greens at Pinehurst’s No. 2 course, which underwent a recent $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.
Kevin Na, who’s tied for third at 3 under par, one shot behind fellow American Brendon Todd, joked that Kaymer must have been playing one of the other seven courses at Pinehurst.
“I heard he played No. 3 course. Is that true?” Na said after shooting a 69 yesterday to follow up a first-round 68. “It’s unbelievable what he’s done. I watched some of the shots he hit and some of the putts he’s made and he looks flawless.”
Brandt Snedeker is also 3 under par, one shot better than fellow Americans Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Brooks Koepka, Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe and Henrik Stenson, the world No. 2 from Sweden.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy shot a second-round 68 to get to 1 under, tied for 10th place with Matt Kuchar, Chris Kirk and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth of the U.S. Spieth, who tied for second at the Masters Tournament in April, had been 3 under before bogeying two of his final three holes yesterday.
“I never played on tour when Tiger was doing this -- leading by six, seven, eight shots -- but I imagine this is what it was like the way Martin’s playing this week,” Spieth said. “I’m going to have to make some more birdies in order to catch him. But the way this tournament normally works, it’s not going to be that way, it’s going to play harder and harder.”
Phil Mickelson’s pursuit of the career Grand Slam took a hit with a second-round 73 that included five bogeys after birdies on two of the first three holes. The six-time U.S. Open runner-up is 3 over par for the tournament.
“I’m not overly optimistic,” said Mickelson, who blamed poor putting for his struggles the first two days. “I’m not in good position, but more than that, you can’t fire at a lot of the pins. You got to make 25-, 30-footers, I’m just not doing it. I need to shoot 6 or 7 under to have a realistic chance.”
Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters Tournament winner, shot a second-round 67 to get back to even par through 36 holes. Fellow Australian Jason Day shot a 68 to get to 1 over, where he’s tied with defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.
Masters champion Bubba Watson missed the cut for weekend play by a stroke at 6 over par.
Hunter Mahan also missed the cut at 6 over after an incident in which he and playing partner Jamie Donaldson were each assessed a penalty stroke yesterday for playing the wrong ball. Mahan’s caddie said he incorrectly identified the balls after both landed in the fairway at the 18th hole.
“You can’t imagine yourself doing something colossally as stupid as that, but I did it,” said Mahan’s caddie, John Wood. “I won’t forgive myself very soon.”
The 13 players under par through 36 holes is one more than the previous two times the U.S. Open was held at Pinehurst. In 1999, seven players were under par after two rounds, with the leaders at 3 under, while five players broke par the first two days in 2005 and the leaders were 2 under par.
Kaymer’s back-to-back rounds of 65 are the lowest scores during the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Only five other golfers in U.S. Open history have reached 10 under par.
“We should celebrate what Martin Kaymer has done,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association. “He has played literally flawless golf. When you set a golf course up, you want good shots to be rewarded. You want poor shots to be penalized. I think that’s what you’ve seen.”
Kaymer, who held a three-stroke lead after the first round, had five birdies without a bogey yesterday.
“The way I’m playing golf right now, it’s just really satisfying,” said Kaymer, who won the Players Championship last month and is 28th in the Official World Golf Ranking. “It’s very solid, not many mistakes. Just very good golf.”