PINEHURST, N.C. – Trains offer a great way to relax and enjoy the views, as long as you’re not tied to the tracks when old No. 99 comes barreling around the bend.
After playing two practice rounds last week on Pinehurst No. 2, Rory McIlroy had planned to enjoy a quiet ride through the sandhills of North Carolina during this U.S. Open. He said his game plan would be conservative—hit the fairway, hit the middle of the green, accept pars and move on.
But after shooting 65-65, Martin Kaymer has made the conservative option one that likely won’t end at Victory Station for McIlroy – or anyone else for that matter.
To win, they’ll need to make some birdies and get some help from Mother Nature.
“Honestly, I would like the rain not to come and for the course to get as firm as possible, because Martin hasn’t really seen it like that,” McIlroy said as clouds gathered Friday evening. “But even if it gets soft here, you’re still having to hit into the middle of the greens and take your chances from there, because if you start going at some of these pins and get too aggressive and miss on the wrong side you’re bringing bogey or double into play nearly every hole.”
Before addressing the media, McIlroy talked with Mark Steinberg, Tiger Woods’ agent, who was waiting for Matt Kuchar, another of his clients, to finish talking to reporters.
“Yeah, tee to green I played better than yesterday,” he said, although his statistics would say otherwise. McIlroy, who shot 68 Friday to move to one-under for the tournament, hit two fairways (11) and two fewer greens in regulation (12) than he did Thursday. He’s clearly happy with his game, and how he’s playing.
“Honestly, if I have a couple more 68s like today, I would take my chances,” he said. “5 under total. I would sit in the clubhouse happily with that.”
After imploding on the back-nine Sunday at Augusta in 2011, McIlroy knows what it’s like to sleep on a big lead and watch it vanish. He also knows what it feels like to have a big lead in a major and extend it. McIlroy lapped the field at Congressional in the same way Kaymer is doing here. He admitted that what Kaymer is doing is more impressive, to him, that what he accomplished in Washington.
“If I was Martin, hopefully I would be thinking about how to get seven ahead, and then how to get eight ahead, and then how to get nine ahead,” McIlroy said.
All McIlroy and the rest of the field can do right now is hope that the Kaymer Express derails over the weekend. If it does, McIlroy wants to be ready, but even he’s not betting on it.
“Martin’s a good front runner and I can’t see him letting up.”