After Martin Kaymer's 65, expect U.S. Open course to toughen up

After Martin Kaymer's 65, expect U.S. Open course to toughen up
Martin Kaymer, who had six birdies in the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday, lines up a putt at Pinehurst's Course No. 2. (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

All those red numbers atop the scoreboard after Thursday's first round do not bode well for golfers in this year's U.S. Open.

Especially for poor Martin Kaymer, the German who won the 2010 PGA and who did the unthinkable here. He dismantled a U.S. Open course, shooting a five-under-par 65 for a three-shot lead.


The players know what's coming. They know that the red that signifies below par signals a different kind of red to the organizing United States Golf Assn.

A red flag.

The USGA now knows what the golfers can handle, what they can tolerate in course setup and speed and what will need to change. As for Kaymer, they probably have a playbook on his weaknesses and will be up all night, plotting.

A favorite saying of USGA officials is that they set up their championship course to test and bring out the best in the best golfers. They actually mean: Let's watch these guys who like to make 30 birdies a tournament sweat.

So tees will be moved back. Or forward, if it creates more difficult angles and club selection. Water was placed on the greens before the start of Thursday's round and shots all day actually held and even stopped. Locks may go on the hoses now.

Kaymer's 65 was in the afternoon, when it should have been harder and faster and near impossible. Expect some personnel changes on the USGA course setup committee.

Friday, expect some of the shots Kaymer and friends were stopping on the greens to keep rolling all the way to Aberdeen.

"A five under par is very exceptional," Kaymer said, as if to plead for mercy. "I was very surprised."

He went on to explain that, mostly, it was good fortune because he hit the ball so close so often. He had six birdies, one bogey and said several of his birdie putts were in the three- to five-foot range, "where you expect to make them."

Kaymer and his brethren know what is coming. They're braced for three days of hell. None of these guys just fell off the turnip truck.

When the sun set and the leaderboard had 15 players under par and 20 more at even par on the devilish Pinehurst No. 2 course, the buzz among players was to get a good night's sleep because the handcuffs will start getting tighter Friday.

Remember, the lowest U.S. Open final score ever at Pinehurst was Payne Stewart's one under to win in 1999. Kaymer's 65 was the lowest Open score ever shot at Pinehurst.

For a day, at least, this U.S. Open was pretty relaxed.

Phil Mickelson, probably the fans' choice to win after his frustrating six second-place finishes in this event, was in the red most of the day and ended with an even-par 70. His day was likely brightened by a New York Times story that said a federal investigation involving stock trading by Mickelson was more a fishing expedition than anything else.


Brandt Snedeker, who injured himself at the start of the year when he fell off a Segway in China — "I need to work on my coordination," he said — shot one-under 69. His round included six birdies, with four in his front-nine start of 31 and two more, with three bogeys and a double, on the back.

Graeme McDowell, who won in 2010 at Pebble Beach, was at two-under 68 and delighted. He said this course is going to be so tough that the winner would make a total of only 10 birdies.

He seemed more excited about the soon-to-be-announced move by British Open officials to hold the 2019 tournament at his home course of Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. They played it there in 1951 and it was the only time it has been outside England or Scotland.

"I just hope I'm exempt and playing well," he said. "It's been a dream of mine since I was a kid."

Rickie Fowler wore green knickers and shot 70, a good start for a player who has been struggling and off the radar. The knickers were in honor of Stewart, who wore knickers, won here in dramatic fashion in '99 and died a few months later in a plane crash.

Fowler said that when he heard about the plane crash, he was a middle-school student and was in his mother's car.

"I started crying in the back seat," he said.

Swedish star Henrik Stenson, No. 2 in the world behind Adam Scott, was happy with his 69 and said, "Anything in red numbers at the U.S. Open is taken."

Then he gave reporters a viewing tip.

"If you guys want to see some disasters," he said, "get a hot dog, a Snickers and a Coke and head out to No. 15, because that's as hard as it can ever get…. If you want to see some train wrecks, go to 15."

He said he hit "a lovely three-iron" on the par three during his Thursday round, watched it start to settle about 15 feet away for a birdie putt and then keep rolling into a bunker.

Matt Kucher shot 69 and said that with the greens a tad softer, "The good shots were staying good shots."

Jordan Spieth three-putted the final hole, still shot 69, and said, "I wouldn't trade the position I'm in."

Thursday's first round of the U.S. Open was like the first five miles of a marathon. Lots of positioning and energy-saving.

The heavy breathing starts Friday and oxygen tanks will be on the course by the weekend.

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes