Martin Kaymer 65 -5
Graeme McDowell 68 -2
Kevin Na 68 -2
Brendon de Jonge 68 -2
Keegan Bradley 69 -1
Dustin Johnson 69 -1
Matt Kuchar 69 -1
Brandt Snedeker 69 -1
Jordan Spieth 69 -1
Rickie Fowler 70 E
Phil Mickelson 70 E
Rory McIlroy 71 +1
Adam Scott 73 +3
Bubba Watson 76 +6
TV today: 9 a.m. ESPN, 3 p.m. Ch. 8, 5 ESPN
Weather: Morning, partly cloudy, mid 70s, 10 percent chance of rain; afternoon, scattered showers, mid 80s, 60 percent chance of rain.
PINEHURST, N.C. — As Martin Kaymer saw his world ranking slip and slide after his victory in the 2010 PGA Championship, he eventually stopped reading stories by the golf media and comments on social media questioning if he was the sport's version of a one-hit wonder.
But a victory in last month's Players Championship bolstered Kaymer's confidence. That evidently carried over to Thursday's opening round of the U.S. Open, in which he lit up the No. 2 course of Pinehurst Resort and Country Club for six birdies in a round of 5-under 65, good for a three-stroke lead.
"I hit very good shots, and I didn't miss many greens. It's always nice not to think about technique." Kaymer said.
When he walked off the course on the eve of golf's toughest test and was asked what he would take for a score at the end of the week, he figured on 8 over. That changed Thursday morning when he turned on his TV to watch early coverage.
Shots at the flag were checking up near the hole. He saw birdies, more than he expected.
Kaymer made six of them in the afternoon, three on the final five holes, sending the 29-year-old German to the lowest score in three Opens held at Pine_hurst No. 2 (the others were in 1999 and 2005). He one-putted the last five holes, including a 6-foot par putt on the 18th.
"It was more playable than I thought," Kaymer said. "I think that made a big difference mentally, that you feel like there are actually some birdies out there, not only bogeys."
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, took the conservative route on his way to 68 that featured 15 pars, one bogey, one birdie and one eagle. He was joined by Kevin Na, Brendon de Jonge and Fran Quinn, a 49-year-old who last played a U.S. Open in 1996.
"This was a golf course where I spent the last few days just preparing myself mentally for the challenge, really, knowing that this golf course wasn't going to give much and it was only going to take," McDowell said. "I'm assuming they put some water on this place (Thursday) morning. And we were able to take advantage of that a little bit early on and actually think about getting at some of those flags."
Phil Mickelson, in his latest quest to win the one major keeping him from the career Grand Slam, shot 70. He was among the early starters who received additional help by cloud cover that kept moisture in the greens. Mickelson doesn't expect Pinehurst to be any easier the rest of the week. "There was some low scoring out there — some good scoring, I should say," he said. "Anything around par, it's usually a good score."
Masters champion Bubba Watson was among the exceptions. He shot 76 and said, "This course is better than me right now."
Before Thursday, Kaymer's Round 1 scoring average at the Open was 74.83. His best score for the round had been 74 in 2010, '11 and '12.
Kaymer's complete game was on display Thursday, a reminder of when he rose to No. 1 in the world for six weeks in 2011. But his ranking had dropped to 63 a few weeks before he won the Players last month.
"I read over and over again, 'Is he ever going to come back? Is he a one-hit wonder with a major win?' " Kaymer said. "It's not nice to read, but I can understand why people think like this. There was not much success after I became No. 1 in the world.
"But at the same time it was quite funny because I knew that it's just (nonsense). I was very secure about myself. I knew what I was doing. There was never any stress."