You can hear her. The fat lady is warming up. But no one has asked her to take the microphone just yet. That’s because playing golf with an enormous lead can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the makeup and skill of the golfer.
Golfers are tough and tenacious, but fragile. They never know what their bodies are going to feel like when they hit the range to warm up. They never know if their putting stroke is going to be on that day or if they will have a case of the lefts off the tee or end up pushing important shots right. Because they are so good compared to the rest of us, we forget they are human when they play golf.
Martin Kaymer, who has a six-shot lead at the U.S. Open starting the third round, knows only too well how easily things can change. In the final round of The Players, he had a three-shot lead on the 15th hole. Then there was a 90-minute rain delay. Instead of Martin Kaymer returning to the course, it was more like Kramer on Seinfeld.
He doubled the 15th. He then took a putter from off the green on the 16th and hit a poor shot, eliminating an opportunity for birdie. At the 17th, he almost missed the green and subsequently hit a bad chip. It looked certain he would end up with a bogey which would put him in a tie or it could have been another double which would cause him to lose the tournament. Then Kaymer made a truly miraculous 30-foot putt for par on the island green. The putt seemed to reinvigorate him and he was able to win the event with a one-stroke victory over Jim Furyk.
Because of that experience, no one has to tell Martin Kaymer about the treachery of playing with a lead. He was ahead of the field the first two rounds at The Players and was tied with Jordan Spieth at the end of the third round. He almost lost the tournament by beating himself. If he is lucky, that lesson will pay off over the weekend at the U.S. Open.
By now, every bad major championship loss in recent memory has been mentioned by writers and broadcasters on six continents. Greg Norman to Nick Faldo. Adam Scott to Ernie Els. Dustin Johnson to Graeme McDowell. Rory McIlroy to Charl Schwartzel. Even Arnold Palmer to Billy Casper.
While the biggest winning margins in majors start with Tiger Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open and include Tiger Woods in the 1997 Masters, the next best are old timers. Really old timers: Old Tom Morris. Young Tom Morris. Willie Smith. Jim Barnes. J.H. Taylor. James Braid. Of the modern players, after Woods, it’s Jack Nicklaus with a nine-stroke victory at the Masters in 1965, Ray Floyd by eight at the Masters in 1976 and Rory McIlroy at the U.S, Open in 2011 and at the PGA in 2012. (Source: USGA)
So can Kaymer add to his lead? Or will his margin shrink over the weekend. We don’t know. That’s why the fat lady will have to wait a while longer to take the spotlight.
Kathy Bissell is a golf writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.