PINEHURST, N.C. – This is like spotting a guy 35 yards in a 40-yard dash. It’s like arm wrestling a grizzly bear. It’s like running for class president against Justin Bieber.
Technically, the 114th U.S. Open Championship won’t end until Sunday evening, though when Sunday evening rolls around, we might look back to early Friday afternoon as the theoretical end.
Martin Kaymer’s six-stroke lead only isn’t ultra-impressive if we consider that, at one time during the second round, it was nine. He turned the year’s most perilous tournament into his own personal hit-and-giggle. He rendered Pinehurst No. 2 into something more resembling Jim Bob’s Pitch-N-Putt.
While all focus right now is on Kaymer’s exploits – opening scores of 65-65 – let’s take a moment to reflect on the other contenders and offer our heartfelt condolences.
After all, they’re not playing poorly. They’re just not Martin Kaymer.
Brendon Todd opened with two rounds that were so good, he would have led each of the last two U.S. Opens by three shots heading into the weekend.
Kevin Na and Brandt Snedeker are only one shot further back.
Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Keegan Bradley have each posted a pair of under-par rounds. Before the tourney started, that would have been optimal. Now? It’s an afterthought.
That’s because they’re all chasing the man who’s already set a bag-full of records.
“If he does it for two more days,” surmises Adam Scott, “then we're all playing for second spot.”
“Probably more surprised than anything,” Brendon de Jonge explained. “I didn't see 10 under out there. But that's obviously very, very impressive.”
“It's unbelievable what he's done,” Na said. “Is 4 or 5 under out there? Yes. Ten under out there? No, I don't think so. I guess it was out there for him. It's amazing.”
“He's dialed in,” said Bradley, who played with Kaymer. “He's as dialed in as I've seen.”
All of which begs the question: How do you stop him?
So far, the field looks as if it’s been playing Miami Heat defense – which is to say, they’ve let the recent Players Championship winner score at will. But of course, there is no defense in golf, so for those chasing right now, the best defense – the only defense – is a good offense.
“We all know that U.S. Opens get very difficult,” reminded Scott, who enters the weekend 10 strokes back. “If I can just somehow put together two really good rounds, maybe slowly but surely I'll creep my way up towards Martin.”
“My approach won't change at all, just keep doing what I'm doing,” said Johnson, who’s posted matching rounds of 69-69 so far. “I've got a good game plan for this golf course and I'm going to stick to it, no matter what. I'll just keep trying to shoot under par around here.”
While it might seem demoralizing to be under par at the U.S. Open and still miles away from the lead, there are some definitive consolations that should leave these contenders cautiously optimistic entering the final 36 holes.
The first is Kaymer’s recent history. In each of his last three PGA Tour starts – a victory at The Players Championship sandwiched by a T-18 at the Wells Fargo Championship and a T-29 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship – he started with two rounds in the 60s and finished with two rounds in the 70s. Though he’s proven himself as a closer, those numbers portend a Sunday afternoon where this tournament is still in doubt.
The second is this tournament’s history – and more specifically, the last time this tournament was held here at Pinehurst. Back in 2005, Retief Goosen, Jason Gore and Olin Browne represented three of the top four names on the leaderboard entering the final round. Each of them failed to break 80 that day.
“It's a very, very difficult golf course, I would say, to play overprotective on,” said de Jonge, who is currently eight shots back, “especially once it gets firm and fast.”
The course should only get firmer and faster over the weekend, with the USGA making it tougher in an attempt to bring Kaymer back to the pack and make this one competitive.
Chasing him might sound like a daunting task, but it’s hardly implausible with 36 holes left to play.
“We've got to see what happens tomorrow,” Bradley said. “But the back nine on Sunday is where it all kind of happens. I think that steady golf out here is going to be tough. You need to go out there tomorrow and make a bunch of pars and you never know what's going to happen.”