PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Now that he’s learned how to win again, Martin Kaymer wants more.
Another major title would do nicely.
The 29-year-old German rode the confidence from his victory at The Players Championship last month to a stellar performance in the opening round of the U.S. Open.
With three birdies in the final five holes at surprisingly inviting Pinehurst No. 2, Kaymer grabbed a three-shot lead with a 5-under 65 Thursday.
“It’s a good round of golf. I wasn’t expecting it. I’m not freaking out about it,” he said. “A good start, but that’s it. There’s nothing more than that. If other people want to make more out of it, it’s fine. For me, it’s just a great start into one of the most important weeks of the year.”
Kaymer joined the exclusive major club with his victory at the 2010 PGA Championship, but a swing change shortly after the biggest win of his career took longer to take hold than expected. He went through a winless drought that would eventually stretch to 29 tournaments over 18 months.
Then came Kaymer’s performance at TPC Sawgrass, where he tied the course record with an opening 63 and held off one of the strongest fields of the year to capture a title that brings nearly as much prestige as a major championship.
“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.”
Pinehurst played easier than expected, with 15 golfers shooting in the 60s – the most since there were 24 at Olympia Fields in 2003.
Look for the course setup to get much tougher heading into the weekend, though heavy rains that pounded the course shortly after nightfall softened up the greens even more.
“There’s a long way to go,” said Kevin Na, who was among the group three shots back after shooting 68. “At the end of the tournament, even par is going to win this championship.”
Here’s five things to look for heading into Friday’s second round:
WIRE-TO-WIRE: The last time a player opened with a 65 was Rory McIlroy in 2011. Like Kaymer, he had a three-stroke lead heading to the second round – and pulled away from there. With four straight rounds in the 60s at rain-soaked Congressional, McIlroy finished with a 16-under score that gave him an eight-stroke victory. But it’s rare when a first-round leader goes on to win the tournament. McIlroy, in fact, is the only player in the last 11 years to accomplish the feat.
KEEP AN EYE ON LEFTY: Phil Mickelson’s pursuit of a career Grand Slam got off to a solid start. Using the “claw” grip to steady his shaky putting stroke, Lefty opened with an even-par 70 that gave him plenty of confidence heading to the second round. Also, Mickelson got good news off the course when a report in The New York Times said federal authorities found no evidence he had traded in the stock of a company that is part of an insider-trading probe.
WHO’S THAT? There always seems to be a first-round surprise at the major championships. This time, it was a downright shocker. Playing late in the day, 49-year-old Fran Quinn shot 3-under 68 to join Na, Graeme McDowell and Brendon de Jonge at three shots off the lead. Quinn’s only year on the PGA Tour was 1992, when he missed the cut in 12 of 18 events and faded back to various minor-league circuits. He has played only one tournament this year, on the Web.com Tour, and hasn’t won any event since 2010.
MAKING THE CUT: While plenty of players were putting up red numbers, some big names will go into Friday mainly concerned with making it to the weekend. The world’s top-ranked player, Adam Scott, struggled to a 73. Masters champion Bubba Watson sprayed shots all over the course on the way to an ugly 76. Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia also had some work to do if they wanted to play all the way to the end.
DEFENDING CHAMP: Defending champion Justin Rose faces a daunting deficit in his bid to become the U.S. Open’s first repeat champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89. The Englishman put himself in a big hole with four bogeys on his first nine holes, though he did recover somewhat for a 72. That left him seven shots behind Kaymer heading to Friday.
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