June 13, 2014
PINEHURST, N.C. -- To feel tiny, ineffectual and unworthy of life itself, stand on the fourth tee at Pinehurst No. 2. It's a high plateau. Way down below, as if from a canyon, the fairway bends left and begins a long climb to a green invisible at the hill's crest. It's a par 4, 529 yards. Bring lunch.
So Martin Kaymer is on the canyon floor, 212 yards from the flagstick, thinking he'd like to get a 6-iron somewhere on the green.
He figured a high draw could get him close.
He didn't much care about getting sensational. Middle of the green would be good. Never mind the heroic draw to the mountaintop. Just get it on, get out alive, move on.
"But, actually, a high draw came," he said.
A high draw came.
As if he had nothing to do with it. As if by thought alone, it happened.
"I hit it to 12 feet," he said, "and all of a sudden you have a birdie chance."
He missed the putt, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the serendipitous high draw. It's proof enough that here, in Martin Kaymer, is a man caught up in destiny's sweet embrace.
This U.S. Open is his. Three players ever have led the Open by five shots or more after 36 holes. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Willie Anderson all won the tournament. Kaymer leads this Open by six shots. Successive rounds of 65 for a 130 total gave him a major-championship record for 36 holes. The six-shot lead would tie an Open record Woods set in 2000 and McIlroy matched in 2011.
"I don't know what to say," Kaymer said afterwards. He'd made no eagles, he'd made no miracle saves from the weed patches, he hadn't rolled in a 60-footer.
All he did was play golf on a diabolical course as well as golf can be played.
Stumped for sensations to relate, then, Kaymer was reduced to saying, "I didn't make many mistakes." And, "It's just very, very solid." And, "Not that many wild tee shots or anything."
A smile here. "It gets boring, the words that I use. But, I mean, there's not much to say. It's just good right now the way I play golf."
"As dialed in as I've seen," to quote his playing partner Keegan Bradley, and Kaymer all but glowed with the satisfaction that comes to a pro who knows his work has been good. Rain had softened Pinehurst No. 2 overnight, and the early starters, Kaymer among them, had perfect scoring conditions.
"But still you have to hit good shots," he said. "Obviously, the record shows that it's very rare that somebody shoots 10 under after two rounds. [Rare, as in never in 113 years.] And it just happened in my case."
It just happened.
So someone asked if such a thing had ever just happened to him before. With a kindly smile and kinder understatement, Kaymer allowed as to how he has "had some good rounds in the past."
It may have escaped America's attention, but Martin Kaymer has been an elite player for five years. He comes with a classic swing, hardly more complicated than Iron Byron's. He's 29, lean and strong, the 2010 PGA Championship winner.
With Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, Kaymer is one of only four men who have won three of professional golf's signal events: a major, the Players Championship (this spring) and a World Golf Championship tournament (2011). A German, he made the putt that clinched the 2012 Ryder Cup for Europe.
Even with all that on his resume, Kaymer's work this week has been extraordinary. He has hit 25 of 28 fairways, 26 of 36 greens. He has taken 54 putts. The first round he averaged 300 yards on measured drives, 306 the second. He has made 11 birdies and one bogey. His card shows one 5 and one 2 -- the other figures are 3s and 4s.
Only unimaginable calamity can result in anything other than a Kaymer victory here Sunday. He knows that, and knows what he must do to prevent it.
"You just want to keep going, you want to keep playing," he said. "You want to challenge yourself. To see if you can stay aggressive and hit the right shots. And that's quite nice, that it's a battle against yourself. It's fun to play for the U.S. Open under difficult circumstances."
For Kaymer, a victory here would be one of the "big, huge moments" that certify his career. "Obviously, if I could win a second, third, fourth major, whatever it's going to be, it would be very, very satisfying. That is what you want. Those are huge moments and it makes you grow as a person and not only as a golf player."
Not that he imagines a victory in North Carolina meaning all that much back in Germany -- not, for sure, when the national football team is about to open World Cup play in Brazil against Portugal.
"I'm actually glad that Germany starts on Monday," he said. That way he might get some ink in the local papers, or mention on television, "even though they talk about the preparation probably every single minute or hour about what the national team is doing ."
Fair enough, he said, for football is Germany's biggest sport, the whole of the nation's golf history pretty much summed up in four words: Bernard Langer, Martin Kaymer. "And I can't wait to watch the first game."
But what, say, would Germans think of Kaymer if he were to win Sunday?
"It will last probably until Monday, 12 o'clock," he said, laughing, "and then that's it."