PINEHURST, N.C. – Pinehurst No. 2 was there to be had Thursday.
The treacherous crowned greens were uncharacteristically soft and receptive after the USGA gave them enough water to make them softer than they’d been the previous three days.
Yet it appeared no one would take great advantage, particularly when the lowest score in the morning rounds, when conditions are usually the best, was 2 under.
But then came Martin Kaymer, the winner of last month’s Players Championship. The German was 4 under on the back nine, including back-to-back birdies on the tough 16th and 17th holes to finish at 5-under 65 and take a three-shot lead over former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na and Brendon De Jonge.
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“They must have put a lot of water on the greens last night,” Kaymer said after shooting the lowest score in the three U.S. Opens here. “I thought it was very playable. And even in the afternoon, we could stop the ball fairly well on the greens. I just didn’t make many mistakes and I hit a lot of good golf shots.”
Kaymer had told a reporter Wednesday that he would be happy with a score of 8 over for the week. His aspirations are much higher now, even though he expects the course to play tougher the next few days.
“Hopefully that (8 over) is not going to happen,” said Kaymer, a former No. 1 player in the world who has regained his form after a couple of off years. “It’s very nice to lead the tournament right now.”
Phil Mickelson, seeking his first U.S. Open victory after finishing runner-up a record six times, shot an even-par 70 and was tied for 16th. “The greens were soft,” said Mickelson, who can complete the career grand slam with a win. “The one club that’s hurting me is the putter.”
Defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose was tied for 50th at 2 over. Masters champion Bubba Watson was tied for 122nd.
“The golf course is better than me right now,” Watson said.
Puyallup’s Ryan Moore was hitting wayward shots in both directions to begin his first round, and it spelled big trouble. He played his first nine holes (the back nine) at 5 over en route to a 6-over 76 that had him tied for 122nd.
“I had no control of my golf ball,” said Moore, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour. “You can’t do that out here — you can’t do that at a U.S. Open. It is extremely penalizing when you miss shots, and I missed a lot of shots on that (first) nine.”
Moore had eight straight pars in his second nine before a bogey on the par-3 ninth hole.
“I have a chance to shoot a solid score and still make the cut tomorrow, then play well on the weekend and actually move a lot up the leaderboard,” Moore said.