Kaymer was bogey-free Saturday at Muirfield Village for a 6-under 66 that gave him a two-shot lead over Adam Scott, setting up a final pairing of two major champions and former No. 1 players in the world in the midst of long droughts.
Four shots behind and very much in the mix are Jordan Spieth — a three-time major champion and former No. 1 — and Hideki Matsuyama, both winless since 2017. Joining them was Patrick Cantlay with a skill set that suggests he should have more than his one victory that came in the fall of 2017.
"We can all play good golf, and it's quite nice for tomorrow because no one is really holding back," Kaymer said. "I think you only hold back if you don't know the situation because then you don't know how to react and you play safe, defensive. ... No one is playing like that in that group."
Kaymer was at 15-under 201 in his first appearance at the Memorial in 10 years. The German was on the verge of falling out of the top 200 in the world ranking until a tie for eighth in the British Masters last month. His road back began with an emphasis on the short game, and it paid off in a big way on a course that slowly getting faster.
He holed par putts of 8 feet and 20 feet on the front nine to keep within the leaders, took the lead with a wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 11th, saved par from a scary bunker shot behind the 12th green with water in front of him, and then holed a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 13 that breaks sharply over the last few feet. Spieth, playing with Kaymer, raised his putter as he watched it break, appreciating the difficulty of it.
Scott had only one blemish on the ninth hole and did enough right to pile up birdies on the par 5s and a few other holes that he's in a spot to win again. A year ago, Scott left the Memorial and had to go through U.S. Open qualifying. While he hasn't won, he chased Brooks Koepka all the way to the finish line at Bellerive in the PGA Championship last summer and feels comfortable where he is.
"I'm just going to play as good as I can tomorrow," Scott said. "I like where it's all at. I feel like the last few times I've been in with a chance, going back to the PGA Championship last year, I felt comfortable. So I'm not worried. I feel like this is the spot I'm meant to be. ... I feel like my game is at a level that if I put it all together properly and control myself out there, I can win."
Matsuyama won the Memorial in 2014, the start of his road to stardom. He finished strong on both nines to give himself a chance with a 64. Spieth has put together his best three-week stretch since the end of the 2017 season, and he was most pleased that he is keeping his tee shots in play and overcame some spotty iron play with a short game that appears to have returned full force. He finished with a 15-foot par putt on the 18th.
"Just trying to hit plenty of greens in regulation and let the flat stick work itself on Sunday," Spieth said. Cantlay, a former No. 1 amateur in the world whose career was slowly by a back injury so severe he thought he might not return, had a chance to win the Memorial last year when he took a two-shot lead into the back nine and then failed to make another birdie, missing a playoff by one shot.
He had a 68 to give himself another chance. Tiger Woods also started strong by holing a bunker shot, nearly holing another and making the turn in 32. But on the 10th, his fairway bunker shot didn't get out and came back in his footprint, leading to a double bogey. That slowed momentum, and Woods finished with a bogey for a 70 that left him 11 shots out of the lead.
Kaymer looked like a world beater in the summer of 2014 when he won The Players Championship in a Sunday duel against Spieth, and then won by eight shots at Pinehurst No. 2 for his second major. Where it all went is as mysterious as the game of golf, though Kaymer spoke about his focus being on the wrong things.
He feels as though he's back, or close enough to contend in the U.S. Open in two weeks, and Sunday could be a barometer. Either way, he was satisfied with his game and his position and what he's done.
"Tomorrow is playing brave, playing the way I can play, enjoying the capability of my game," he said. "Everything is there. I don't need to hold back with anything. I don't need to be afraid of something that could happen. I just look forward to whatever happens tomorrow."