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Martin Kaymer seizes US Open lead with 65

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PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Three days of practice at the new Pinehurst No. 2 was enough to make Martin Kaymer believe this would be the same old U.S. Open.

So when he walked off the course on the eve of golf’s toughest test and was asked what he would take for a score at the end of the week, he figured on 8-over par. That changed Thursday morning when he turned on his TV to watch early coverage.

Shots at the flag were checking up near the hole. He saw birdies – more than he expected.

Kaymer made six of them in the afternoon, three on the final five holes, sending the 29-year-old German to the lowest score in three Opens held at Pinehurst No. 2. He one-putted the last five holes, including a 6-foot par putt on the 18th that gave him a 5-under 65 and a three-shot lead.

“It was more playable than I thought,” he said. “I think that made a big difference mentally, that you feel like there are actually some birdies out there, not only bogeys.”

So much was made of the new look at No. 2, which was restored to its old look from more than a half-century ago. Pinehurst turned out to be more different than anyone imagined – at least for one day.

As for Kaymer’s prediction?

“But obviously, they softened the conditions a little bit so it was more playable,” he said. “So hopefully, I’m not right with the plus 8. I would be disappointed.”

Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell took the conservative route on his way to a 68 that featured 15 pars, one bogey, one birdie and one eagle. He was joined by Kevin Na, Brendon de Jonge and Fran Quinn, a 49-year-old who last played a U.S. Open in 1996, when Tiger Woods was still an amateur.

“This was a golf course where I spent the last few days just preparing myself mentally for the challenge, really, knowing that this golf course wasn’t going to give much and it was only going to take,” McDowell said. “I’m assuming they put some water on this place this morning. And we were able to take advantage of that a little bit early on and actually think about getting at some of those flags.”

Brandt Snedeker, who had a chance at 30 on his front nine, had to settle for being part of a large group at 69 that included 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson.

The 15 players to shoot in the 60s were the most for an opening round at the U.S. Open since 24 players did it at rain-softened Olympia Fields in 2003.

Phil Mickelson, in his latest quest to win the one major keeping him from the career Grand Slam, shot a 70. He was among the early starters, who received additional help by cloud cover that kept moisture in the greens. Mickelson doesn’t expect Pinehurst to be any easier the rest of the week.

“There was some low scoring out there – some good scoring, I should say,” he said. “Anything around par, it’s usually a good score.”

Masters champion Bubba Watson was among the exceptions. He shot a 76 and said, “This course is better than me right now.”

The sun broke through shortly before noon and began to bake the course, though not enough to stop Kaymer. He watched some of the tournament on television in the morning, and he was particularly struck by the sight of Stenson’s 6-iron into the par-3 15th only rolling out a few feet. Kaymer expected it to roll off the green.

“Last night I thought that it’s going to be very, very firm in the afternoon,” he said. “But actually, it was more playable than I thought.”

Not everyone was able to take advantage.

Defending champion Justin Rose had a 72, making his bid a little tougher to become the first repeat winner in 25 years. Adam Scott, the world No. 1 who has been formidable in every major the last two years except the U.S. Open, had a 73.

Scott wasn’t about to panic. Pinehurst only figures to get more difficult.

“You know how it’s going to be at the end of the week,” Scott said. “We’re going to be looking at even par, or something around that.”

Kaymer picked up four birdies with relative ease – three wedges to inside 3 feet, and a high draw with a 3-wood to about 20 feet on the par-5 fifth for a two-putt birdie. A few longer putts at the end really dressed up the score.

He hit a 6-iron at the flag on the 16th hole and made a 12-foot birdie putt, and then hit another 6-iron at the par-3 17th to about 10 feet for birdie.

Kaymer tied the course record with a 63 in the opening round when he won The Players Championship last month, ending a drought of some 18 months. That only boosted his confidence, and the 65 on Thursday only adds to it.

Even so, he realizes it’s only one round, and that the course probably won’t be so kind or gentle the rest of the way.

“I would have never expected myself to shoot such a low round at Pinehurst … but it’s a good round of golf,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I’m not freaking out about it. It’s the first round of a very, very important tournament. I put myself so far in a good position, but we have three rounds to go. The golf course can change a lot.

“If other people want to make more out of it, it’s fine,” he said. “But for me, it’s a great start into one of the most important weeks of the year.”

Martin Kaymer seizes US Open lead with 65

KDWN

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Much to his delight, Martin Kaymer discovered that Pinehurst No. 2 was even more different than he imagined in the U.S. Open.

This wasn’t the beast of a course that Kaymer and so many other players were expecting.

This was a day for scoring.

Kaymer made six birdies Thursday afternoon, three on the final five holes, that sent the 29-year-old German to the lowest score in three Opens held at Pinehurst No. 2. He made a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a 5-under 65 and a three-shot lead.

“It was more playable than I thought,” he said. “I think that made a big difference mentally, that you feel like there are actually some birdies out there, not only bogeys.”

So much was made of the new look at No. 2, which was restored to its old look from more than a half-century ago. There also was plenty of talk that this U.S. Open would be as tough as any U.S. Open.

When he finished his final day of practice Wednesday under a broiling sun, Kaymer was asked what it would take to win.

“I said plus 8 because the way the golf course played on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” he said. “But obviously, they softened the conditions a little bit so it was more playable. So hopefully, I’m not right with the plus 8. I would be disappointed.”

Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell took the conservative route on his way to a 68 that featured 15 pars, one bogey, one birdie and one eagle. He was joined by Kevin Na, Brendon de Jonge and Fran Quinn, a 49-year-old who last played a U.S. Open in 1996, when Tiger Woods was still an amateur.

“This was a golf course where I spent the last few days just preparing myself mentally for the challenge, really, knowing that this golf course wasn’t going to give much and it was only going to take,” McDowell said. “I’m assuming they put some water on this place this morning. And we were able to take advantage of that a little bit early on and actually think about getting at some of those flags.”

Brandt Snedeker, who had a chance at 30 on his front nine, had to settle for being part of a large group at 69 that included 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson.

The 15 players to shoot in the 60s were the most for an opening round at the U.S. Open since 24 players did it at rain-softened Olympia Fields in 2003.

Phil Mickelson, in his latest quest to win the one major keeping him from the career Grand Slam, shot a 70. He was among the early starters, who received additional help by cloud cover that kept moisture in the greens. Mickelson doesn’t expect Pinehurst to be any easier the rest of the week.

“There was some low scoring out there – some good scoring, I should say,” he said. “Anything around par, it’s usually a good score.”

Masters champion Bubba Watson was among the exceptions. He shot a 76 and said, “This course is better than me right now.”

The sun broke through shortly before noon and began to bake the course, though not enough to stop Kaymer. He watched some of the tournament on television in the morning, and he was particularly struck by the sight of Stenson’s 6-iron into the par-3 15th only rolling out a few feet. Kaymer expected it to roll off the green.

“Last night I thought that it’s going to be very, very firm in the afternoon,” he said. “But actually, it was more playable than I thought.”

Not everyone was able to take advantage.

Defending champion Justin Rose had a 72, making his bid a little tougher to become the first repeat winner in 25 years. Adam Scott, the world No. 1 who has been formidable in every major the last two years except the U.S. Open, had a 73.

Scott wasn’t about to panic. Pinehurst only figures to get more difficult.

“You know how it’s going to be at the end of the week,” Scott said. “We’re going to be looking at even par, or something around that.”

Kaymer picked up four birdies with relative ease – three wedges to inside 3 feet, and a high draw with a 3-wood to about 20 feet on the par-5 fifth for a two-putt birdie. A few longer putts at the end really dressed up the score.

He hit a 6-iron at the flag on the 16th hole and made a 12-foot birdie putt, and then hit another 6-iron at the par-3 17th to about 10 feet for birdie.

Kaymer tied the course record with a 63 in the opening round when he won The Players Championship last month, ending a drought of some 18 months. That only boosted his confidence, and the 65 on Thursday only adds to it.

Even so, he realizes it’s only one round, and that the course probably won’t be so kind or gentle the rest of the way.

“I would have never expected myself to shoot such a low round at Pinehurst … but it’s a good round of golf,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I’m not freaking out about it. It’s the first round of a very, very important tournament. I put myself so far in a good position, but we have three rounds to go. The golf course can change a lot.

“If other people want to make more out of it, it’s fine,” he said. “But for me, it’s a great start into one of the most important weeks of the year.”

Martin Kaymer seizes US Open lead with 65

KDWN

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — There was something unusual in the opening round of the U.S. Open.

A bunch of scores in the 60s.

The best one of all 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 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 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.

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 3 at the par-five 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 championship. He was tied for the lead heading to the final round of both the Masters and The Players Championship, but couldn’t close out either on Sunday. It seems just a matter of time before the young Texan claims a career-defining triumph.

Maybe it will be at Pinehurst.

“I had a lot of fun today. You don’t normally say that at the U.S. Open,” Spieth said. “I was able to get into the flow early, and able to keep it going. One-under – I would take that four times.”

Mickelson already has five majors, but this is the one he wants more than any other. Lefty has been the runner-up a record six times in this event, denying him the only big title missing from his resume. He has changed his grip to deal with a shaky putter, hoping that would help bring his first victory since capturing the British Open last July.

“This is a golf course where I get similar feeling to Augusta,” Mickelson said. “You don’t have to be perfect. You always have a chance. It is challenging. There are difficult shots. But they’re manageable.”

In recent weeks, Mickelson has been linked to an insider trading investigation. Clearly, he was able to stay focused on the course.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “I’m willing to help out and would love to help out any way I can with the investigation.”

Rory McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open in a rout at Congressional, opened with a 71.

Defending champion Justin Rose, who held off Mickelson a year ago at Merion, shot 72. There hasn’t been a repeat winner in this championship since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Martin Kaymer seizes US Open lead with 65

KDWN

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Martin Kaymer has shot a 5-under 65 to take a three-shot lead after the opening round of the U.S. Open.

The German birdied three of the last five holes at Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday to break out of a tie with Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na and Brendon de Jonge. Kaymer closed his round by sinking a 6-footer to save par at No. 18.

It was the lowest round ever posted for the three Opens played at this Donald Ross masterpiece in the sand hills of North Carolina. Sweden’s Peter Hedblom held the previous mark with a 66 during the second round in 2005.

Also, Kaymer matched Rory McIlroy in 2011 for the second-lowest opening round in the past decade. Mike Weir started with a 64 at Bethpage in 2009.