PINEHURST, N.C. — Martin Kaymer set a U.S. Open record Friday with a game so dominant that he did more than just build a six-shot lead.
He managed to bring Tiger Woods into the conversation at a major he’s not even playing.
Kaymer opened with a short birdie and rolled his way to a second straight round of 5-under 65 — this one without a bogey. He set the 36-hole scoring record at 10-under 130 and left the rest of the field wondering if the 29-year-old German was playing a different course, or even a different tournament.
“If he does it for two more days, then we’re all playing for second spot,” said Adam Scott, the world’s No. 1 player.
Such talk once was reserved for Woods, still home recovering from back surgery.
Kaymer played early on a Pinehurst No. 2 course that received a burst of showers overnight. That red 10 on the leaderboard next to his name was a daunting sight the rest of the day.
He led by eight shots when he finished, and only three players in the afternoon cut into that deficit.
“I heard he played the No. 3 course. Is that true?” Kevin Na said after a 69 put him seven shots behind. “It’s unbelievable what he’s done. Is 4 or 5 under out there? Yes. Ten under out there? No, I don’t think so. I guess it was out there for him. I watched some of the shots he hit and some of the putts he’s made and he looks flawless.”
Brendon Todd kept this from really getting out of hand. He made two tough pars from the bunker late in his round for a bogey-free 67 to get within six shots, putting him in the final group on the weekend in his first major.
“Kaymer’s performance has been incredible,” Todd said. “He’s playing a brand of golf that we haven’t seen probably in a long time, since maybe Tiger.”
Kaymer tied the record for the largest 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open, first set by Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000 and matched by Rory McIlroy at rain-softened Congressional in 2011.
Woods went on to win by 15 shots. McIlroy set the 72-hole scoring record and won by eight.
“I played Congressional and I thought, ’How can you shoot that low?”’ Kaymer said. “And that’s probably what a lot of other people think about me right now.”
McIlroy thought the German’s feat was more impressive, mainly because of the nature of Pinehurst No. 2 and the turtleback greens created by Donald Ross. Yes, they were softer than expected and held quality shots. But there is trouble lurking around every corner. Kaymer just hasn’t found it — yet.
“If someone had told me that I was going to be standing here 1-under par after 36 holes at the start of the week, I would have taken it,” McIlroy said after his 68 left him nine shots behind. “But what Martin has done over the first couple of days has made 1-under par look pretty average.”
As impressed as everyone was, none was ready to concede just yet.
Pinehurst No. 2 has not played close to its full length of 7,562 on the scorecard, and it has not been nearly as fast as it had been during the three days of practice. And strange things can happen at a U.S. Open.
Even so, they all needed some help from Kaymer, who last month won The Players Championship.
“I never played on tour when Tiger was doing this — leading by six, seven, eight shots,” said 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who had a 70 and was nine shots back. “But I imagine this is what it was like the way Martin is playing this week.”
Brandt Snedeker had a 68 and joined Na at 3-under 137. Only nine others were under par going into the weekend.
It wasn’t a great day for Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask. The only Canadian in the field shot 5-over 75 for the second straight day to ensure he will miss the cut.
It looks like a typical U.S. Open — except for Kaymer.
Dustin Johnson opened with a pair of 69s, a score he would have gladly taken at the start of the week and perhaps thought it would be good enough to lead.
“I wouldn’t have thought it would be eight shots behind,” Johnson said.
Brooks Koepka, the American who is carving his way through the European Tour, birdied his last hole for a 68 and joined the group at 2-under 138 with Brendon de Jonge (70), Henrik Stenson (69) and former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who played in the same group with Kaymer and rallied for a 69.
“He’s as dialled in as I’ve seen,” Bradley said.
Starting on the back nine, Kaymer hit wedge into 5 feet for birdie on the par-5 10th. He made birdie putts from 20 and 25 feet, and then hit a gorgeous drive on the par-4 third hole, where the tee was moved up to make it play 315 yards. His shot landed perfectly between two bunkers and bounced onto the green to set up a two-putt birdie.
And the lead kept growing.
“I look at the scoreboards. It’s enjoyable,” Kaymer said. “To see what’s going on, to watch yourself, how you react if you’re leading by five, by six. … I don’t know, but it’s quite nice to play golf that way.”
Kaymer was the sixth player in U.S. Open history to reach double-digits under par, though McIlroy was the only other player to get there before the weekend.
This is the “Germanator” everyone expected when he won the PGA Championship, and then a year later rose to No. 1 in the world. Kaymer felt his game was not complete enough, so he set out to develop a draw — his natural shot is a fade — and it took two years of lonely hours on the range to get it right.
At the moment, he can do no wrong.
Kaymer felt tired toward the end of the round, and it showed. He hit into bunkers on the sixth and seventh holes, and both times blasted out to short range. He also converted a difficult two-putt from the front of the eighth green.
Even with a big lead, Kaymer did not consider changing his strategy.
“Because if you think of defending anything, then you’re pulling back, and that’s never really a good thing,” he said. “You just want to keep going. You want to keep playing. You want to challenge yourself. If you can stay aggressive and hit the right shots. And that’s quite nice that it’s a battle against yourself.”
That’s what this U.S. Open is right now. A one-man show.