Thursday was Martin Kaymer’s day at the 2014 U.S. Open, and he shot an impressive five-under 65 to seize a three-stroke lead over the rest of the field.
Posting a 65 is notable no matter what course you are playing on, but the fact that Kaymer did so at the notoriously difficult Pinehurst No. 2 course in North Carolina should raise eyebrows across the sport. Sure, the course was playing much easier than usual, but Kaymer is still three shots clear of the rest of the field.
As Day 2 begins, follow Kaymer and the rest of the competitors right here with live score updates below. The entire updated leaderboard can be found on PGATour.com.
Kaymer was the headliner on Day 1, but there are some golfers who are always of interest. Matt Kuchar posted a one-under, Phil Mickelson finished at par, Adam Scott checked in at three-over par, Rory McIlroy posted a one-over par and Bubba Watson failed to ride his Masters’ momentum and finished with a disappointing six-over par.
In a tournament so often dominated by high scores, Kaymer took advantage of crucial birdie opportunities in favorable conditions Thursday. As impressive as he was, though, the thought process here is that the scores will gradually begin to rise above par.
Kaymer will finish in the top 10, but Kuchar, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson will be the threesome to rise above the rest over the course of the four rounds and finish in the top three.
Kuchar may be the game’s most consistent player, which will be critical going forward as the scores start to increase. He won’t take ill-advised risks and will knock home par after par on the way to an impressive finish. What’s more, he seems to feel comfortable on the course, as his quote indicated after Thursday’s round, via the U.S. Open:
"I think the course is playing beautifully right now." Matt Kuchar on Pinehurst's Course No. 2.— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 12, 2014
That comfort level and consistency will be rewarded.
As for Spieth, he hit 11 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens Thursday. Hitting fairways and greens will be critical to avoiding bogies and gradually climbing the leaderboard. Pars win at the U.S. Open, and that won’t change just because there were some impressive scores Thursday.
What’s more, Spieth has some experience after losing a three-stroke lead at the Masters and will use the lessons he learned at Augusta down the stretch Sunday.
Who finishes higher?
Spieth ranks eighth in the PGA in putting from 15-20’ (26.6 percent), which is also critical because the rare birdie opportunities on this course typically come from that distance. He is also 11th on the tour in scrambling percentage (63.66 percent), which will help him save par under duress.
As for Johnson, he ranks second on the Tour in driving distance (311.8 yards) and 12th in greens-in-regulation percentage (68.99 percent). The best formula for avoiding bogeys is to bomb drives and then reach the green from closer than the other golfers. It is also the best way to get the occasional birdie, which will be critical.
Ideally, he will also have better luck than he did Thursday in the latter rounds, as TaylorMade Golf pointed out:
The prediction here is that Kuchar’s consistency, Johnson’s driving and greens-in-regulation totals and Spieth’s mid-range putting and scrambling prowess will lead to a star-studded top three on Sunday.
Follow me on Twitter: