Kaymer in command, but nothing determined


PINEHURST, N.C. – Golf’s Hall of Fame was once housed in a nondescript building behind the fourth green on Pinehurst No. 2 before it was co-opted by Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and relocated to points south.

On Saturday Martin Kaymer may have solidified his claim to candidacy into the relocated Hall with his Houdini act on the par-4 fourth hole.

After covering his first 36 holes with just a single bogey, the German had already matched that total through three holes at a dusty U.S. Open when he hit a wild hook into the pine straw left of the fourth.

After a prolonged conversation with the USGA’s top minds – including president Tom O’Toole and executive director Mike Davis – Kaymer took a drop, chipped out and hit his fourth shot to 15 feet for an unlikely bogey.

If you check Merriam-Webster for the definition of a “good bogey” it will now feature a snapshot of Kaymer’s stoic mug.

U.S. Open trophies aren’t doled out on Saturday, but if the 29-year-old can scratch out a victory on Father’s Day at Pinehurst history will go back to that gritty moment when Kaymer refused to be beaten by an increasingly difficult golf course or the rub of the green.

A victory on Sunday would give Kaymer two majors, a bookend for his 2010 PGA Championship triumph with a faux major high card via his win at last month’s Players Championship. He would become just the fifth player to ever collect that trifecta.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

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Way back in 2005 Retief Goosen was also bound for a coronation lap on Sunday at that Pinehurst Open, three shots clear of the field on his way to an Open hat-trick. But Goose closed with an 81 and tied for 11th place, eight strokes behind Michael Campbell, proving for the billionth time that sport defies any guarantees.

“Anything can happen,” Kaymer warned. “I can lead by seven or eight shots after nine holes. I can be down to all square. It will be an exciting round.”

It’s a fair point, but for that scenario to occur would take a healthy amount of give and take from Kaymer and the field, respectively, and the former world No. 1 hasn’t made it look as though he has much interest in being magnanimous.

Despite nervy bogeys at Nos. 13 and 15, Kaymer finished his round with a 10-foot birdie putt at the last for a 2-over 72 and a five-stroke lead.

Sunday at Pinehurst will be less about numbers than it will be the potential nominees poised behind him.

Arrayed behind Kaymer is an A-list cast that includes Rickie Fowler in second place at 3 under, reigning FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson, who are tied for fourth at 2 under.

For Johnson, Sunday’s final round is something of a cosmic mulligan. At the 2010 PGA Johnson was penalized two strokes when he grounded his club in what turned out to be a hazard and finished two shots out of the playoff won by Kaymer.

“Anything can happen, it’s a U.S. Open,” said Johnson (70), who knows a thing or two about squandering title chances after he blew a three-shot cushion through 54 holes at the 2010 U.S. Open.

For Fowler, the last 18 holes at the U.S. Open represents an opportunity to fulfill a promise he made to swing coach Butch Harmon in December.

“He said he wanted to be known for more than just his colorful clothes and flat-brimmed hats,” Harmon recently said. “He wanted to be known as a champion.”

Fowler will head out in the day’s final group with Kaymer in his best position to win his first major since the 2011 Open Championship.

The same motivation applies to Stenson (70), who can move to No. 1 in the world with a victory after finishing second and third at last year’s Open Championship and PGA, respectively.

With apologies to all that firepower, however, one contender stands out among all others.

Erik Compton matched the round-of-the-day with a 67 to move to 3 under par, is playing in just his second major championship and needed 38 holes at the U.S. Open qualifier two weeks ago in Columbus, Ohio, just to make it into this field.

And unless you’ve been held up in one of Pinehurst’s scruffy bunkers this week you may have also heard something about Compton being a two-time heart transplant recipient.

It’s poetically apropos that last year’s PGA Tour Courage Award winner has shown an amazing amount of moxie this week considering his physical limitations.

Because of Compton’s suppressed immune system he has struggled lately with allergies, weakness and at last month’s Memorial Tournament he started losing his hearing in his left ear.

By comparison, a four-stroke deficit to start the final turn at his national championship is hardly a reason to become overstimulated.

“At times when you look around and I realize where I have been, and then I'm just happy to be able to play golf,” Compton said. “To play at this high level and in such a big tournament, it is something that I carry with me.”

But if Compton will be the sentimental favorite, Kaymer is poised as the competitive equivalent of Secretariat thanks to his near machine-like execution this week on the retrofit Donald Ross gem.

And if he’s able to complete his masterpiece it will likely be recorded that it was a gritty bogey four holes into his Saturday round that propelled him from a good player to a great one.