PINEHURST, N.C. — Martin Kaymer was No. 1 in the world for eight weeks early in 2011, not long after he won the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
He then fell to 63rd in the world afterward, going winless on the PGA and European Tours in 2012 and 13.
There were few results over the past couple years to reinforce any thoughts that swing changes he was making were helping. Then came his win at The Players Championship in May, and the wave of confidence that has followed.
The German rode the wave into the 114th U.S. Open, and it only grew in stature Thursday, as he carded a 5-under-par 65 at Pinehurst No. 2 to take a three-shot lead after the first round.
I needed a win, if its a Players or a regular PGA Tour event said Kaymer, who has played twice since The Players, recording finishes of 29th and 12th at the HP Byron Nelson and BMW PGA Championship in Europe. I just needed it for my confidence, for all the work I put in over the past couple years. I needed something to show me all the work I had done was good.
Obviously The Players, that made a big difference on the confidence level.
Kaymer, ranked 28th in the world, made six birdies and a bogey Thursday to record the lowest round at a U.S. Open held at Pinehurst, which includes the 1999 and 2005 championships. The previous low was a 66 by Peter Hedblom in 2005.
Kaymer said hes been comfortable with his swing and hasnt had to work on his technique since March. The slump appears to be over. Slump is a tough word. I wouldn't call it a slump, I would call it a learning process, an adjustment, Kaymer said. I see things very positive right now. There's not much negative. And I really enjoy playing golf that way.
Kaymer has a three-shot lead over 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na, Brendon de Jonge and Fran Quinn, a former PGA Tour member who is playing in his first U.S. Open since 1996.
Scores Thursday were much lower than anticipated.
The par-70 course played to only 7,360 yards of its possible 7,562 in the opening round, and conditions were as benign as they are expected to be all week, particularly in the morning when cloud cover helped the layout keep moisture and greens were receptive after being very firm through Wednesdays practice rounds.
We had ideal scoring conditions, if that's a thing at a U.S. Open, said Jordan Spieth, who shot a 1-under 69. We had perfect weather this morning: cloud cover and it wasn't windy at all, and the greens were more receptive than yesterday.
Brandt Snedeker, who had a short putt on the ninth green to shoot a 30 on his front nine, stumbled on the back nine and settled for being one of 10 players at 69 that included the 20-year-old Spieth, Coastal Carolina alumnus Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar Hideki Matsuyama and Keegan Bradley.
Phil Mickelson, a six-time U.S. Open runner-up with his first opportunity to capture the career Grand Slam, is one of 20 players at even-par 70, along with Ian Poulter, Rickie Fowler and Steve Stricker.
The 15 players who shot in the 60s were the most for an opening round at the U.S. Open since 24 players did it at a rain-softened Olympia Fields in 2003.
Kaymer had an afternoon tee time and saw some of the morning play, and that changed his mindset entering the round, knowing birdies could be made.
[Wednesday] I got asked after the 18th hole what score I would take on Sunday afternoon and I said plus 8 because the way the golf course played on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Kaymer said. But obviously they softened the conditions a little bit, so it was more playable. So hopefully I'm not right with the plus 8.
Of all the players who took advantage of the conditions, Quinn was the least likely.
Nine months from his 50th birthday, the Massachusetts golfer had a brief career on the PGA Tour, has four Web.com Tour victories the last in 2010 and is trying to keep his playing career alive without status on either the Web.com or PGA tours this year.
His 15-year-old son Owen, a 3 handicap himself, is caddying for Quinn this week.
It was a dream start. It was everything that I could want and more, Quinn said. I'm 49 years old, it's Father's Day weekend, I've got my boy on the bag. My dad passed away two years ago, and I know he's looking down today. And it's just a tremendous feeling.
Quinn capped his round with a tee shot to 2 feet for a birdie on the 180-yard par-3 ninth hole to pull into a tie for second.
When he hit that 7-iron in there to about 2 feet on the ninth hole, I was like, wow, this is really it, he shot 68, Owen Quinn said. It's awesome. He's 49 years old. You don't know how many more chances you're going to have at it. It was an unbelievable experience for me and unbelievable experience for him.