The putt went round the hole, all the way around the circumference, and somehow stayed on the surface of the fifth green. Brendon Todd, in disbelief, sank to his knees.
He was far from alone Saturday in that regard, but it may have stung him the most. After the first two days of his first major, virtually in his own backyard, the three-time state champion from Cary’s Green Hope High School was behind only Martin Kaymer. (Six strokes behind, but nevertheless.) A local kid in the final pairing on Saturday at the U.S. Open? It’s hard to imagine that being any better.
If Martin Kaymer faltered, Todd was in the best position of anyone to pick up the pieces. Instead, he spent the back nine trying merely to keep it together himself. If Todd made it look easy Thursday and Friday, Saturday was an impossibly difficult introduction to major-championship golf.
“First time I’m in the hunt in a major, and my game wasn’t there today,” Todd said afterward, philosophically. “I’ve been through this before. It happens.”
A balky putter early led to breakdown after breakdown on a day Pinehurst No. 2 offered none of the margin for error it had over the first two days. The momentum that came so easily to Todd on Friday was nowhere to be found Saturday as he finished with a 9-over 79 to fall into a tie for 30th place.
“There’s no chance to hit the ball close when the pins are tucked like that,” he said. “You never get that birdie to get your momentum going back the other way. Even Martin had trouble getting the momentum back. He only made two birdies today and he probably made 11 over the last two days. It was difficult.”
Todd putted off the back of the second green and made bogey, missed a 3-footer for par on the third and an 8-footer for par on the fourth. By the time he was standing over his second putt on the fifth green after leaving a long eagle attempt 8 feet short, his nerves were beginning to visibly fray. He stepped back to ask Kaymer to move out of his field of vision and his caddy asked fans down the fairway to hold still before making the putt.
It was a brief respite. After his second putt circled the drain and stayed out on six, he drove the ball into the left muck on seven, hit his second shot into even more muck even farther left of the green, could only advance the bar as far as the sand trap short left of the green and ended up with double bogey.
Kaymer, six strokes ahead going into the round, was 10 ahead by then and Todd slipped all the way off the leaderboard and into irrelevance with a 40 on the front side.
Somebody might interrupt Kaymer’s relentless march to a title that appears to be a foregone conclusion. It was clear by the fourth hole – when Kaymer made bogey after taking an unplayable in the left rough and Todd couldn’t make par from perfect position in the fairway – it was not going to be Todd.
It could have been worse – Toru Taniguchi blew up with an 18-over 88, six strokes beyond the next-worst score – but the rough start left Todd unable to enjoy what should have been one of the most memorable moments of the 28-year-old’s young career.
“The scores weren’t really happening for me today, so it was difficult,” Todd said. “But it’s cool to have fans out there. It’s cool to be in the final group at the U.S. Open. All in all, I’ll take a lot from it.”
His day may yet come in the U.S. Open. It wasn’t Saturday.