PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA – Three days of practice at the new Pinehurst No. 2 was enough to make Martin Kaymer believe this would be the same old U.S. Open.
So when he walked off the course on the eve of golf’s toughest test and was asked what he would take for a score at the end of the week, he figured on 8-over par. That changed Thursday morning when he turned on his TV to watch early coverage.
Shots at the flag were checking up near the hole. He saw birdies — more than he expected.
Kaymer made six of them in the afternoon, three on the final five holes, sending the 29-year-old German to the lowest score in three Opens held at Pinehurst No. 2. He one-putted the last five holes, including a 6-foot par putt on the 18th that gave him a 5-under 65 and a three-shot lead.
“It was more playable than I thought,” he said. “I think that made a big difference mentally, that you feel like there are actually some birdies out there, not only bogeys.”
So much was made of the new look at No. 2, which was restored to its old look from more than a half-century ago. Pinehurst turned out to be more different than anyone imagined — at least for one day.
As for Kaymer’s prediction?
“But obviously, they softened the conditions a little bit so it was more playable,” he said. “So hopefully, I’m not right with the plus 8. I would be disappointed.”
Hideki Matsuyama fired a 1-under-par 69 to move into a share of sixth place.
Matsuyama, who tied for 10th in his debut at the U.S. Open last year, rolled in four birdies against three bogeys.
He birdied the 10th hole to start off but dropped a shot on the par-4, No. 16th for his first bogey of the day. Matsuyama later had consecutive bogeys on Nos. 1 and 2 as he slipped back to 2 over before rebounding with three birdies in his last five holes.
The 22-year-old Japanese ace won his first career title on the U.S. tour at the Memorial on June 1. He is trying to become the first Japanese golfer to win a major.
“I had a hard time because this was very difficult. There were hard and soft areas on the greens, but I am glad I was able to stave off my frustration. I will have to continue to be patient,” he said.
Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell took the conservative route on his way to a 68 that featured 15 pars, one bogey, one birdie and one eagle. He was joined by Kevin Na, Brendon de Jonge and Fran Quinn, a 49-year-old who last played a U.S. Open in 1996.