DUBLIN, Ohio — Two-time major champion Martin Kaymer is tied for the lead going into the weekend at the Memorial, and whether he wins is not what drives him.
He knows his game is close enough that he can.
Kaymer kept it simple Friday with birdies on all the par 5s, a tee shot to 10 feet on a dangerous right pin at the par-3 12th and a bogey on his final hole at Muirfield Village for a 4-under 68 that gave him a share of the lead with Troy Merritt (66) and Kyoung-Hoon Lee (67).
They were at 9-under 135.
Jordan Spieth had a 70 and was another shot behind.
Tiger Woods had a chance to be a lot closer to the mix than seven shots except for the par-5 15th. He was in the shaggy rough on a hill above the green in two, and took five to get down for a double bogey. Woods had to settle for a 72.
“I just wasn’t able to get anything really going,” Woods said.
Kaymer is coming up on the five-year anniversary of his last win, and that wasn’t just any victory. He demolished the field at Pinehurst No. 2 for an eight-shot victory, this coming one month after he beat the strongest and deepest field in golf at The Players Championship.
And then he was gone.
“I distract myself,” Kaymer said. “I listen too much to other people, and also a bit of belief. Sometimes, you would think I won so many big tournaments I should have so much belief in myself that I can win any week. ... The last two years, I was just not there. I just didn’t believe that I could win the tournament I’m playing.”
He recently got off social media because he found no value except for gossip, innuendo and otherwise useless information. He was reminded of why that was such a smart move when he stopped for coffee Tuesday morning and stood in line between a half-dozen people, all staring at their phones.
“It’s just distraction, stimulation for your brain, just not thinking, not being there,” he said.
Spieth appears to be getting closer to ending nearly two years without a victory. One day after he holed two chips and made a long eagle putt, he was in position for a low score and had to settle for a 70.
“I probably shot the highest score I could have today,” Spieth said, though he immediately saw one upside. His only bogey was on No. 10 when he missed a 4-foot putt. But that was only his second bogey through 36 holes.
“I’d like to think I’d make as many or more birdies over the next two days,” he said. “For me, it’s about eliminating mistakes, and I’ve done a good job of that.”
Justin Rose made the biggest move of the way. He opened with a 75 and dropped to 4 over with a bogey on the third round. And then Rose strung together six consecutive 3s on his card, especially impressive because two of them were par 5s. He chipped in for another birdie. He wound up with a 63 and went from a weekend off to being within three shots of the lead.
Woods watched the whole thing and was mostly stuck in neutral.
“All of us were watching Rosie get things going on the front nine,” Woods said. “I just wasn’t able to make anything happen today.”
No shot did more damage than his 5-wood to the par-5 15th, where it sailed to the left, the one place he couldn’t afford to miss. He was trying to bounce it one green and it took two tries to do that, and then he three-putted from just over 25 feet for a double bogey.
“I just need a round like what Rosie played today,” Woods said.
At least he’s still playing.
Phil Mickelson started with a triple bogey and ended the back nine with a double bogey. He matched his worst score at Muirfield Village with a 79 and missed the cut. It was even more painful for Rory McIlroy, who was on the cut number (1-over 145) when his wedge to the 15th came up 5 feet short of where it needed to land and rolled off the green, down the fairway and into a light cut of rough, leading to bogey. He also missed a 4-foot par putt on the 17th, making his birdie on the 18th meaningless.
Also leaving early was Justin Thomas in his first tournament since the Masters because of a bone bruise in his right wrist. He was in good shape until hitting into the water on both par 3s on the back nine, and when his hopes were gone, catching a flier out of the first cut that went off the cart path behind the 18th green and into the dining room. He left in style.
For Kaymer, he can only hope this 36-hole performance is an arrival.
“It’s very early to think that way,” he said. “But you’re excited to be in position again. You work quite hard over the last few years, and you want to feel that excitement of playing one of the last groups. And who knows what happens by Sunday afternoon, if I’m still up there or not. But I’m very pleased right now that I put myself in that position. ... knowing and proving to myself that I have it in me right now.
“I don’t need to work on something special right now. I just need to play the game.”