MIDWAY THROUGH the 114th U.S. Open, there are two tournaments: The one being played by Martin Kaymer, and the one for everyone else
The soft-spoken German, who until winning The Players Championship and its $1.8 million payday in May had been golfing MIA since 2010, shot his second consecutive 5-under 65 Friday at Pinehurst No. 2. If you check the USGA record book, that’s a shot better than Rory McIlroy’s 65-66 start in 2011 – the Open’s previous 36-hole best –when McIlroy won by eight shots.
Thus, it would seem reasonable to figure that, barring a total collapse, Kaymer can start thinking about his second major title and clearing a spot in his trophy case next to that PGA Championship hardware he brought home from Whistling Straits, Wis., four years ago.
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Then again, there’s a guy sitting eight shots back who could tell Kaymer about assumptions.
Dustin Johnson, late of Columbia and Coastal Carolina, ground out a second straight 1-under 69 Friday, putting him in a group (with Keegan Bradley, Brendon DeJonge and others) who almost needed a telescope to spot Kaymer. “Obviously Martin’s playing very well, and that 10-under is very good around here for two days,” Johnson said matter-of-factly after his round.
Kaymer and Johnson have played “a good bit” with each other over the years, he said, but never more famously than at that 2010 PGA. Johnson, leading by a shot on the 18th tee, thought he was headed to a playoff after a closing bogey – until he was hit with a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in one of about a million “bunkers” dotting the Pete Dye layout. That opened the door for Kaymer, who then beat Bubba Watson in their playoff.
Alas, that was merely one chapter in Johnson’s “how to come close but not win a major” stretch. There also was his epic collapse at the 2010 U.S. Open after holding the third-round lead, to Graeme McDowell’s great benefit, and then Johnson’s shot out of bounds in the final round of the 2011 British Open Championship to pave Darren Clarke’s way.
That’s not to beat up on D.J., though. Rather, it points to the craziness of major-championship golf, and suggests there is some history here that might play out this weekend.
If you were expecting Johnson to acknowledge any of that, forget it. When it comes to revealing thoughts about highs and lows, the Sphinx might be more forthcoming.
“My approach (the next two days) won’t change at all,” he said. “Just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve got a good game plan for this golf course, and I’m going to stick to it no matter what. I’ll just keep trying to shoot under par around here.”
No one in Pinehurst thought that approach would be buried by Kaymer’s start. “I would have taken (his own 2-under total) on Wednesday,” Johnson said, “and no, I wouldn’t have thought it would be eight shots behind.”
Still, this is Johnson’s best Open opening since his Pebble Beach debacle. “The last two (Open courses, Olympic Club and Merion), I wasn’t particularly a big fan of,” he said.
As for Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits, if nothing else, they taught Johnson that the trophy isn’t awarded until all the holes are done.
He knows only too well – from personal experience – what might happen to Kaymer between now and late Sunday. And from Johnson’s perspective, it would seem to be karma if he benefited from such a Hindenburg-like flameout.
“There (are) two days and a lot of golf left,” he said. “I’m comfortable with where I’m at, and I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.”
And then wait to see if Kaymer returns that four-year-old major favor.