PINEHURST, N.C. -- Nobody saw this coming, certainly not Martin Kaymer. Like almost all of his peers, he expected a brutal, unforgiving test when the U.S. Open began Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2.
Asked before the tournament began what score he would take for the 72-hole tournament, Kaymer wasted little time answering.
"Eight over par," he said.
Kaymer shot 5-under-par 65, posting the lowest score in nine competitive rounds played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He did it in the afternoon, when scoring conditions were more difficult, and he heads into the second round 3 shots better than Kevin Na, Graeme McDowell and Brendon de Jonge, all of whom shot 68.
"I just didn't make many mistakes," Kaymer said. "I hit a lot of good golf shots. Finally, I could make some putts on 15, 16 and 17. And on 18. So it was a really nice way to finish."
Kaymer, 29, has two victories on the PGA Tour -- the 2010 PGA Championship and this year's Players Championship, a win that came after a lengthy down period during which he retooled his swing.
The victory at TPC Sawgrass last month was his first since capturing the 2012 Nedbank Challenge, a limited field event in South Africa. Earlier that year he made the clinching putt for the European Ryder Cup team at Medinah, but his results in stroke-play events over the period had been poor, and the former No. 1-ranked player in the world had slipped outside of the top 60 in the rankings prior to the Masters Tournament.
But the swing changes he made began to pay off.
"It's always nice if you don't think much about technique and just focus on the main things, the yardages and where you want to pitch the ball, not thinking too much if you hit it not too good; where would it end up," he said.
"So I see things very positive right now. There's not much negative, and I really enjoy playing golf that way."
Kaymer had six birdies and a single bogey. On the back nine, he made birdie at the 10th, 14th, 16th and 17th holes and converted a nice par-saving putt at 18.
For the round, Kaymer hit 13 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens. And he needed just 25 putts.
That added up to the best round ever in a U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
"He played great," said Keegan Bradley, who shot 1-under 69 in a group of former PGA champions, including Jason Dufner. "He hit the ball in the fairway all day. There were pins that you could score on. And he's really striking it well. It was an impressive round. One of the best I've seen, for sure."
Bradley was like many others who didn't envision anyone shooting 65.
"But I felt like they put some pins that we could score on," Bradley said. "They moved a few tees up and put the ball in the fairway again. You can take a risk in this U.S. Open and hit the driver, knowing that maybe if you hit it in that waste area I can hit it on the green, which I think is a way more fun approach to the tournament."
It was certainly fun for Kaymer.