PINEHURST, N.C. – The U.S. Open is supposed to be the greatest challenge in golf, but Martin Kaymer has run through it like it's a dingy beachside putt-putt track.
Kaymer, the 2010 PGA Championship victor, has never finished better than a tie for eighth in the U.S. Open. So naturally, he's come into Pinehurst and posted a score of 10-under that puts him in the company of elite performances like those of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. His back-to-back 65s are records for individual rounds at a Pinehurst U.S. Open. The combined score is the lowest for 36 holes ever posted in the U.S. Open, and matches the lowest score ever in a major.
Oh, and the accolades go on.
Kaymer has 11 birdies against one bogey. He reached 10-under on the 32nd hole, the second-fastest ever to get to double-digits below par. That 130 is the lowest score ever at an Open after 36 holes. After two rounds, he's six shots clear of Brendon Todd, who at 4-under sits second. All this in a tournament where of the 156 players, just 13 are under par.
This is ridiculous. This is scoring 200 points against the 1996 Bulls, homering five times off Mariano Rivera, intercepting Tom Brady a half-dozen times. This, folks, is Tiger Woods territory.
Though it's but a distant memory now, there was a time when Woods dominated golf in a way no other athlete, not even Michael Jordan, dominated his sport. The clearest measure of that greatness came in 2000, when Woods won his first U.S. Open. He completely dominated Pebble Beach and the field in a way that had never been seen before, finishing a full 15 strokes ahead of his closest challengers.
Woods posted a 12-under card to finish the weekend. Eleven years later, McIlroy would best that mark with a stunning 16-under to win at Congressional. This is the company the 29-year-old Kaymer is keeping; he's already most of the way to matching their marks.
But here's the point where we step back and point out that a U.S. Open isn't over until the final putt drops. Phil Mickelson could write an entire six-volume epic poem on the tragedy of not bagging the big one at the U.S. Open. Rolling on Friday doesn't mean cruising on Sunday.
"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," Kaymer said. "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."
Plus, even a double-digit score below par is no guarantee of victory. A fella named Gil Morgan could tell you that. Morgan was 9-under halfway through the 1992 U.S. Open and would eventually get to 12-under before effectively falling off the edge of the world. He played his final 29 holes at 17-over and surrendered the victory to Tom Kite, eventually finishing in 13th place.
Kite erased a deficit of eight strokes, one of three players to do that at the U.S. Open. Lou Graham holds the record for making up a deficit, coming from 11 strokes back to win the 1975 U.S. Open.
Once Saturday begins, Kaymer conceded that he'll be taking an approach unusual to pro golfers: he'll be keeping an eye on his competition.
"I look at the scoreboards; it's enjoyable," he said. "To see what's going on, to watch yourself, how you react, if you're leading by five. … It's quite nice to play golf that way."
Of course, after getting its precious jewel booted like an elementary-school kickball, the USGA is likely to amp up the degree of difficulty in the course layout, from pin placement to green firmness. And to hear Kaymer tell it, that's just fine with him.
"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."
He's about to get his wish.