Rude: Is the U.S. Open over? Not by a long shot
PINEHURST, N.C. – Every now and then, lunchtime inquiry on a Friday at a U.S. Open can be as simple and odd as this: Is it over? The fast-starting brilliance of Tiger Woods in 2000 and Rory McIlroy 11 years later provoked such questioning over midday meals.
Now this. The remarkable play of Martin Kaymer, the Germanator, left some feeling early afternoon that the current National Open might be over. Kaymer’s blitzkrieg of 65-65, adding up to an Open record 130, put him ahead by eight strokes (a margin that would shrink to six) when he and everyone else in the Friday morning wave finished.
Kaymer should hope history repeats, for Woods would go on to cruise by a Secretariat-like 15 strokes and McIlroy by eight. What’s more, of the five men who have led the Open by at least four strokes midway, only one failed to win, and that was 105 years ago.
That said, this unpredictable game is highly capable of disregarding a template. Major championship golf so often veers from the expected. So the answer to the wonderment is no, it’s not over. Not with 36 holes remaining on a tricky Pinehurst No. 2 layout that, save more precipitation, figures to get firmer and faster as weekend pressure increases.
PHOTOS: 2014 U.S. Open (Friday)
Check out photos from Friday's second round of the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.
Yes, Kaymer’s ball-striking, putting and clear thinking on the rain-softened turf have relegated others to the B Flight and below. Yes, two of the several pursuers at 2 under par – Brendon de Jonge and Brooks Koepka – both cracked that it seems Kaymer is playing a different course.
But nobody, not even someone 10 miles ahead, gets a trophy on Friday night. We don’t need to look far to know that. Adam Scott, then on the verge of becoming No. 1 in the world, led the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March by seven strokes midway, but the affable Australian didn’t finish first or second.
Speaking of Palmer, he led the 1966 Open by seven with nine holes left and didn’t win. And if you speak French or know something about golf in Scotland, then perhaps you recall that Mr. Jean Van de Velde didn’t win the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie despite carrying a three-shot cushion to the 72nd tee.
A lot can happen on one hole. So two rounds can bring a rash of rapid two-way traffic, particularly on Pinehurst course expected to get harder.
If you thought you just heard a recording, you’re right. Some of the principals were uniform in their expression.
Dustin Johnson, another at 2 under: “Anything can happen in a U.S. Open.”
Koepka: “You never know what can happen. One bad shot can cost two or three shots.”
Even Kaymer got in on the chorus: “Anything can happen the next two days.”
Anything already has happened. Many players thought a few over par might win here. Then some rain fell and one precise professional went 10 under halfway. So we’ve already been fooled.
This is not to say Kaymer won’t close. The odds are heavily in his favor, not just because of his large advantage. The 2010 PGA champion is in a great place mentally, thanks to thinking less, trusting his swing and gaining confidence from The Players victory last month.
What’s more, his game has shown no cracks. When a terrific putter misses just two fairways and three greens in regulation, you get an unprecedented second 65 and a wide gap.
One certainty at this point is that if not for the German’s sprint ahead, we’d have one compelling logjam up top. Another is that he apparently feels comfortable on hard courses featuring sandy waste areas. We give you Whistling Straits, TPC Sawgrass and now the restored No. 2.
Kaymer said he hopes to keep playing the same way, for “if you think of defending anything, you’re pulling back.” But he’s just one of the three variables. The field and weather are the others. Maybe the only thing that can slow him down is a storm delay, as one did late at The Players.
Here, you might say his game already has received an assist from Mother Nature, for he has handled the receptive greens so nicely. Next he could get aid, oddly enough, from the USGA.
Because the U.S. Women’s Open is here next week, the USGA figures to be less likely to push the turtle-back greens to the purple-colored edge of death. The USGA, in effect, is conducting a two-week tournament and needs healthy greens for the second half of the fortnight.
If you are trailing, you want the place fast and fiery. Big leads can evaporate faster that way. As Joe Ogilvie said, “As a chaser, you want volatility.”
Don’t take our word for it. A freefall broke out when the ball got rolling on Sunday last time here, in 2005. The top three scorers through 54 holes – Retief Goosen, Jason Gore and Olin Browne – averaged 81.7 in the final round. They fell out of the top 10 and ended up in an average place of 27th.
But these are different circumstances. The USGA has to be careful because the women are coming to town. Plus, there’s no rough this time. Carnage, thus, is less likely.
Kaymer, though, still has to play. He has made No. 2 look easy, but everyone knows it’s not.
So others still hope.
“This golf course is tough,” Johnson said. “You get a little off with your driver and irons, you’re going to have a long day.”