PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Too bad the Fox Sports contract to televise the U.S. Open doesn’t start until next year. Greg Norman would probably have a lot to say about the difficulty of playing with a big lead on the weekend at a major championship.
Norman, who will be the network’s golf analyst, famously lost a six-shot lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters. Ten years earlier, he lost a four-shot lead in the PGA Championship at Inverness.
Martin Kaymer still has 36 holes to go at Pinehurst No. 2.
The 29-year-old German thus far has played like a “finely tuned engineer,” a description Darren Clarke used for him when Kaymer won The Players Championship last month. Going into the third round Saturday, he has made 11 birdies and, more importantly, has not made a bogey in 29 holes.
That adds to a 10-under 130 – a 36-hole record at the U.S. Open. His six-shot lead over Brendon Todd tied the U.S. Open record for largest 36-hole leads with Tiger Woods (Pebble Beach in 2000) and Rory McIlroy (Congressional in 2011). Both went on to win in record fashion.
Does the strategy change? Does he start the third round as if he has no lead at all, or does he play conservatively to avoid big numbers?
McIlroy offered advice from his own experience.
He had a four-shot lead going into the final round of the 2011 Masters, played defensively and wound up with an 80. The collapse might have been even more memorable except that Boy Wonder turned out to be a quick study. Two months later, he had a six-shot lead going into the weekend at the U.S. Open, expanded that margin to eight shots on Saturday, and never let anyone get close the rest of the way.
“You need that mentality that you’re not trying to protect,” McIlroy said Friday night after a 68 put him nine shots behind. “You’re not happy with six. You want to get to seven, you want to get to eight. And I learned that at the Masters, the previous major before Congressional. If you get too defensive, it’s detrimental. So he has to just keep hitting to his spots, being aggressive.
“And if he does that shoots a couple of 70s over the weekend, I don’t think anyone is going to catch him.”
The 67 players who made the cut at Pinehurst would love to be in Kaymer’s position. That’s not to say Kaymer has smooth sailing ahead of him. From a public perception, all he can do from here is lose, and it’s hard to block that out.
Kaymer made quick work of Pinehurst over two days. The last two days will feel a lot longer.
Phil Mickelson made reference to Gil Morgan, the first player to reach double digits under par in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 1992. He finished eight shots behind. Then again, Mickelson said Pinehurst No. 2 is different from Pebble Beach, just as Kaymer – a major champion and former world No. 1 – is not Morgan.
“There’s opportunity to salvage par if your game is off,” Mickelson said. “And his game is on.”
Woods (12 under) and McIlroy (16 under) are the only players to win a U.S. Open at double digits under par. That’s not likely to happen at Pinehurst.
“No one else is going to get to 10 under. That’s a fact,” Graeme McDowell said. “Martin, to me, he’s in control of the golf tournament right now. If he can keep it better than 5-, 6-under par, he’s got this thing sewn up and can only beat himself from here. He’s got a lot of work to do, though.”
Kaymer sounded as though he realizes to play defensively is to ask for trouble. He spoke Friday about going forward, finding new challenges and said, “That’s quite nice that it’s a battle against yourself.”
Woods was playing his own tournament at Pebble Beach in 2000, still regarded as the greatest major performance in history. He stretched his six-shot lead to 10 shots over Ernie Els going into Sunday and wound up winning by 15.
Woods had his own challenge that day – no bogeys. It showed when he made a 15-foot par putt on the 16th hole and reacted as if he had just taken a one-shot lead.
“I knew if I went out there and made no bogeys today, Ernie would have to shoot a really low number,” Woods said. “If I went out there and was patient, hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, I knew I’d make a putt here and there and maybe increase the lead.
“Or if not,” he added, let them know that it was almost impossible to catch me.”