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DeCock: Kaymer a Pinehurst surprise as US Open runaway leader

By Luke DeCock - Staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Martin Kaymer hits his ball out of the sand trap at the sixth green Friday at Pinehurst No. 2 during the second round of the U.S. Open.

For the multitudes who never saw this coming, there’s no need to fret. Even Martin Kaymer is a little taken aback by how well this has gone for him.

“I said to my caddie, there were a couple of shots today that I was surprised how good they were,” Kaymer said. “Because I was not expecting to hit it that close, because it was a tough pin and all of a sudden you end up with a very good birdie chance and you would have taken four from the fairway.”

He might not be as surprised as Brendon Todd, the former Green Hope star from Cary. Todd is playing out of his mind a mere hour from where he grew up. But he knows he’s not dreaming, because only in a nightmare would he still be six strokes back in second place despite going into the weekend 4-under par in the U.S. Open.

“I even watched a little bit of coverage this morning,” Todd said. “(Kaymer) hit a shot on 17, the par 3, and it landed 10 feet left of the hole and he was like, shocked. He was like mad. I mean, those were my good shots this week.”

Halfway through, it’s Kaymer’s tournament to lose. Which isn’t to say he’ll win: The German still has 36 insanely tricky holes to play. As Phil Mickelson said after his round, “You never know what will happen in a U.S. Open. We’ve always had crazy things happen. So you just never know.”

But after firing twin 65s to make major-championship history, there is ample retrospective evidence that Kaymer might thrive here, even if no one could or would predict the degree to which he has dominated so far.

Kaymer is coming off a resounding win at The Players a month ago on a course as fiendish as any major venue. He’s a former world No. 1 who won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2010, a course similar in appearance to Pinehurst with its waste bunkers and natural areas. He shined under pressure at the Ryder Cup in 2012, making the putt that retained the trophy for Europe.

Kaymer might just be one of those guys who doesn’t have the high-octane game to shred the TPC of Wherever Falls and Brown Shoe Country Club and the week-in-week-out birdie-happy courses on the PGA Tour, but has the unflappable mentality to excel when par is elevated to a laudable score.

On the second hole Friday, his 11th, he stood waiting in the fairway for Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner to hack their way out of the wiregrass. On the third, he drove the green at the short par 4 and two-putted for birdie while they both missed wide left. No mistakes, no mercy.

Both his game and his personality recall the similarly steady and stoic Retief Goosen, who won two U.S. Opens, including the battle of attrition at Shinnecock in 2004. In black hat, shirt, pants and shoes Friday, Kaymer looked like a valet-parking attendant. He betrayed all the emotion of one, on and off the course.

“It gets boring the words that I use, but I mean there’s not much to say,” Kaymer said. “It’s just good right now the way I play golf.”

With all the red numbers on the leader board, the USGA will surely unleash the back tees and precarious pins it has been saving for the weekend. That might just play into Kaymer’s robotic hands. Making the golf course harder might just make it harder for anyone else to make enough birdies to catch him.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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