U.S. Open favorites Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson just spectators as Martin Kaymer laps field at Pinehurst
PINEHURST, N.C.—Never mind, Phil.
Enjoy your weekend, Bubba.
Thanks for coming, Adam.
We don’t know what’s going to transpire come Sunday at the 114th United States Open on the jungle beach that is Pinehurst’s No. 2 course. Oh, we’ve got a pretty good idea, but nothing is ever for certain. For details on that, see Gil Morgan, Jean Van de Velde or Dustin Johnson, to name a few.
We do know what’s not going to happen this weekend.
Captain Ahab -- I mean, Phil Mickelson -- is not going to land his white whale and finally get a U.S. Open after six runner-up finishes, even though this would complete his career Grand Slam.
There won’t be anything called the Bubba Slam in 2014, unless Denny’s comes up with a new menu item. Bubba Watson, your Masters champion, followed his opening 76 with an even-par 70 and missed the cut, as did Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel.
Adam Scott shot a second-round 67 to get to even par, but unless something crazy happens he’s not going to add another major championship to his resume this week. What’s more, he now looks to be on borrowed time as the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world.
This is just some of the fallout from the semi-nuclear explosion that was Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst, where he backed up his opening 65 on a tough track with, ahem, another 65. This makes him just the sixth player in history to reach double digits under par in our National Open. Gil Morgan was the first at Pebble Beach in 1992. Tiger Woods did it again, and again at Pebble, in 2000. Rory McIlroy put the scoring record seemingly out of reach in 2011 when he shot 16 under par on the sponge cake that was Congressional Country Club, but Kaymer is on a pace to reach 20 under. (Jim Furyk also got to double digits under par at the 2003 U.S. Open, for all you Jim Furyk fans out there.)
One-man golf tournaments are seldom thrilling. There’s no real drama, other than maybe a record score and the question of who’s going to win the B Flight. This was the Phil Mickelson Memorial Open this week. Was. But Mickelson began the second round 10 shots behind Kaymer. That’s a lot of strokes, even with 54 holes remaining, and when Mickelson started missing five-footers Friday, it was all but over. Even if he made everything he looked at, it was going to be hard to catch Kaymer, who for 36 holes has looked like the best player in the history of mankind.
As Steve Stricker said of Kaymer, “If he plays even par on the weekend, he wins.”
If we’re looking at a Kaymer runaway, at least there’s no heartbreak for Phil, no I-am-such-an-idiot moment, and no second-guessing. It’s the equivalent of a baseball pitcher throwing a no-hitter because on that given night, he’s got unhittable stuff. There’s no shame in that. If Phil somehow manages to win the B Flight here and finish second for an amazing seventh runner-up finish, at least it won’t be a heartbreaker. It would be just like Phil to make a Phantastic charge and give Kaymer a game on the weekend, but he still looks shaky with the putter inside five feet and that is a death knell. At this point, we can only echo the prayers of assorted network TV executives and USGA officials. Right now, they need a miracle. “Hey, folks, tune in to see whether Brooks Koepka can outduel Kevin Na and Brendan de Jonge for the runner-up spot…” No sale.
This is just another reason why it’s so hard to win the U.S. Open or any major. You can play your best, but if one guy goes ballistic on a given week, whether it’s Kaymer or McIlroy, or a guy goes ballistic for a whole decade or so, like Tiger Woods did, then you’re out of luck.
Phil’s U.S. Open chase is over for another year, to be continued at Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Wash., next summer.
Bubba’s chase was probably over before it began. We might’ve guessed, listening to his pre-tournament comments. He talked about the non-fairway areas -- “I don’t know what you call it -- dirt, sand, weeds” -- and how the greens were “unfriendly.” If there had been subtitles and a translator, those comments would’ve come out as, “I hate this course, or whatever you call it.” He was beaten from the start. It happens.
Asked earlier in the week if he thought earlier that 10 under par was reachable at Pinehurst, Bubba said, “Not by me. Maybe for the good players.”
Kaymer, who beat Watson and Dustin Johnson in a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, has been in a class by himself this week, just as he was when he won The Players last month. It’s easy to forget all about those swing changes that didn’t work and set him back a couple of years. He was always a very good putter, though, and now his long game is back and better than ever. He looks formidable. You have to give him the edge over Scott right now because of the putter, the weakest part of Scott’s game.
The countdown continues for Adam. He finally got his major at the Masters last year, at which point he had 11 more majors in which he would be allowed to use a long putter that he anchored. Now he’s got six more before the anchored putting ban goes into effect. His window to build his legacy is closing quickly, unless he’s able to find another way to make putts. If he does, he’ll be a pioneer in that area.
“If [Kaymer] does this for two more days,” Scott said, “then we’re all playing for second spot. We all know that U.S. Opens get very difficult, and if I can somehow put together two really good rounds then maybe slowly but surely I’ll creep my way up toward Martin.”
Scott and Mickelson can’t give up hope. That’s part of being a professional athlete. Yes, Kaymer could back up on the weekend and Scott or Mickelson or Hideki Matsuyama or Dustin Johnson or someone else could toss up a 65 and get back in it.
But after Kaymer’s flawless performance on Friday the 13th, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get that lucky.