Martin Kaymer leads U.S. Open after Round 1
PINEHURST, N.C. — There was something unusual in the opening round of the U.S. Open.
A bunch of scores in the 60s.
The best one was turned in by Martin Kaymer.
His confidence spurred by a win at The Players Championship, Kaymer birdied three of the last five holes Thursday for a 5-under-par 65, the lowest score from any of the three Opens played at Pinehurst No. 2.
The German got up and down for par at the 18th hole, rolling in a testy 6-foot putt to beat the 66 shot by Sweden’s Peter Hedblom during the second round in 2005.
Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na and Brendon de Jonge and Fran Quinn were three shots back.
Kaymer beat a loaded field at The Players last month, snapping a stretch of 29 tournaments without a victory stretching over 18 months.
“I needed a win,” Kaymer said. “Whether it was The Players or a regular PGA Tour event, I just needed it for my confidence, for all the hard work I’ve put in the last couple of years.”
Ten other players were in the clubhouse at 69, meaning there were more under-par rounds in this opening round than the last two years combined.
At Merion a year ago, only five players broke par on Thursday.
At Olympic Club in 2012, there were just six scores in the 60s.
No one expected Pinehurst to stay this inviting through the weekend.
“There was some moisture on the greens, and you were able to hold shots,” Na said. “I was able to capitalize on a good tee time. But there’s a long way to go. Obviously, I’m 2-under-par right now, but at the end of the tournament even-par is going to win this championship.”
That’s still a good bet.
The last two Open champions finished over par.
Pittsburgh-born Brendon Todd shot 1-under 69 and is tied for sixth.
Phil Mickelson got off to a strong start as well in his bid for the career Grand Slam, attacking the course with deft iron shots on the way to a 70.
McDowell, who won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, was as steady as can be on this Donald Ross masterpiece, which has undergone a drastic makeover to restore its rustic look, with patches of natural vegetation — better known as weeds — taking the place of thick, lush rough.
The Northern Irishman bounced back from his only bogey at No. 4 with an eagle at the par-5 fifth hole. He added another birdie at the 14th, and the rest of his card was filled in with pars, just the sort of solid, mistake-free golf that is required in the U.S. Open.
“You don’t have to strike it amazing around here,” McDowell said. “You just have to position the ball correctly at all times.”
Na also made an eagle at No. 5 on the way to the best Open round of his career. He missed the cuts in 2010 and 2011, and finished 9-over at his last Open two years ago.
After thick cloud cover made things easier for the morning players, the blistering sun broke through and the temperature climbed to 90 by mid-afternoon. Still, there were low scores to be had, with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Henrik Stenson among the big group at 69.
Not everyone was thriving. The world’s top-ranked player, Adam Scott, shot 73. Masters champion Bubba Watson sprayed shots all over the place on the way to a 76.
Spieth was in the thick of things again, making four birdies to put himself in contention at another major.
He was tied for the lead heading to the final round of the Masters and The Players Championship but couldn’t close out either on Sunday.