THE MEEK might inherit the Earth, but the meek won't win this U.S. Open.
Watered greens Wednesday night and a half-inch of rain Thursday night helped Martin Kaymer stand at 10-under after two rounds, an Open record and six better than second-place Brendan Todd. Only 13 golfers were within nine shots of him, and only Keegan Bradley (2-under) and Rory McIlroy (1-under) have major championships on their resumés.
Receptive greens have rewarded Kaymer's accurate play, and they might remain through the weekend. Even if the greens on Pinehurst's No. 2 course dry out, there is little sense in hoping for Kaymer to collapse.
Yes, the USGA could stretch the course out to its full, burly length, and it could hide the pins on these treacherous Donald Ross greens, but Kaymer hits it long and straight and putts beautifully.
It will take the heart of a lion to try to catch him. Most of the field is talking as if they are lambs being led to slaughter. There are exceptions.
Adam Scott, No. 1 in the world and No. 15 after two rounds here, understands the urgency.
"If I drew up my perfect plan right now, over the next 27 holes you would like to narrow the gap to you know, less than half of what it is," said Scott, who had four birdies and is at even-par 140.
Henrik Stenson, who won the FedEx Cup last season, won't cross his fingers and hope, either. He finished with birdies on three of his final five holes and shot 69 for the second day in a row, locked up with five others at 2-under.
"I think I'll stick to my game plan for another nine or 18, at least," Stenson said. "The goal would always be to be within three or five shots with 18 to go. Then you know you have a chance, then, if you do something brilliant."
There is a reason Stenson won an extra $10 million last season.
There is a reason Scott is the best golfer on the planet.
They play to win, no matter what course they're on; no matter what the score is. Even here.
Besides, said Stenson, there's no guarantee the greens will get hard. Thunder roared through the thick evening atmosphere as he spoke after his round, though No. 2 might stay soft, regardless.
"There's no way they can get this place firm over the weekend now, given the softness that it is now and if we get more rain coming," Stenson said.
McIlroy, who last month came from seven strokes behind to win European Tour's BMW Championship, said he would accept a 5-under total this week. Maybe he's still heartbroken over The Breakup.
"If he can hold on to that 10-under total, he's going to win this tournament," McIlroy said. "You start going at some of these pins and get too aggressive and miss on the wrong side, you're bringing bogey, double into play nearly every hole."
That's not the McIlroy who smoked the field at his two major wins. That's the McIlroy who needed two players to triple-bogey the same hole to make his BMW win possible.
That sentiment was echoed by nearly everyone under par.
"If you can play each nine 1-under-par, you're probably doing really, really good," said Todd, apparently eager to lose by two. "If he comes back to us, great. If he shoots 10-under again in the next 2 days, then he's superhuman, so we'll just have to try and wear him down."
Kaymer is 29, has the body fat of a garter snake, the build of a quarter-miler and, with a win at The Players Championship this season, the toughest title to win outside of the U.S. Open. Todd's plan has flaws.
So does Kevin Na's. He's delighted to be at 3-under, considering he has one PGA Tour win, has never finished better than 10th in a major, was cut in two of his first three Opens and has had to overcome performance issues.
"I can't change my strategy," Na said. "Hopefully, I can close the gap and apply some pressure. If Martin goes out and shoots under par for 36 holes, again, just under par, and stays in double figures, hats off to him. He deserves it."
"You can't get too caught up with where Martin is," said Brandt Snedeker, tied with Na for third. Snedeker has 10 birdies, second only to Kaymer, who has 11. He said he's content to wait until the back nine tomorrow to "find out where everything lays."
Keegan Bradley witnessed Kaymer's 65s firsthand, but Kaymer's sharpness did not affect Bradley's strategy Thursday or yesterday; nor will it alter Bradley's plan for today.
"He's got a big lead, but that doesn't really change anything I'm going to do," said Bradley after two 69s. "If I can shoot all four rounds in the 60s, man, that would be pretty tough."
It's as if Bradley and the rest of the field are daring Kaymer to remain deep in the red.
"My approach won't change at all," said Dustin Johnson, also at 2-under. "Just keep doing what I'm doing. I've got a good game plan for this golf course and I'm going to stick to it, no matter what."
What he's doing is not winning majors.
If Kaymer remains far ahead tomorrow, though, Bradley might start firing at pins and taking more aggressive lines.
"We've got to see what happens [today]," Bradley said. "But the back nine on Sunday is where it all kind of happens."
Sometimes, that is true. This time, it's happening now.
The good news for the meek: Second place could inherit more than $800,000.
It sounds like what most of them are playing for, anyway.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch