Kaymer's complete game was on display, a reminder of when he rose to No. 1 in the world for a six-week period in 2011. But it was a ranking that had dropped to 63 a few weeks before he won The Players.
"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 crap. I was very secure about myself. I knew what I was doing. There was never any stress."
The Players, in which he opened with a 9-under 63, gave him a big boost, relieving the pressure and reducing the outside negativity. He said that when he tried to hit the right shot at the TPC at Sawgrass course, "it worked out 90 percent well for me." And it was the same Thursday.
"On 17 [a par 3], I needed a high draw to get to that flag, to hit it close," he said. "You can always go to the middle of the green and make your two putts [for par], but I wanted to get it close to the hole because I thought I had a good yardage. When you do it, it only adds confidence."
Kaymer hit the 6-iron to 10 feet and sank the putt for his sixth and final birdie. A two-putt par from the front fringe on 18 enabled him to finish three clear of a quartet of players.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach, joined Kevin Na; Brendon de Jonge; and 49-year-old Fran Quinn, the brother of Temple golf coach Brian Quinn, at 68.
Ten more players, including 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson, and Matt Kuchar, were at 70. Twenty players matched par, including six-time Open runner-up Phil Mickelson.
Pinehurst No. 2, which played firm and fast during practice rounds earlier this week, received a good dose of water overnight because of a forecast for sunshine and a temperature near 90. As a result, the scoring was a bit of a surprise.
"It's nice when you can watch golf in the morning and try to adjust mentally," said Kaymer, who had a 1:47 p.m. tee time. "I thought [Wednesday] night it was going to be very firm in the afternoon, but actually it was more playable than I thought."
McDowell, whose first-round highlight was an eagle at the par-5 fifth, attacked the course conservatively, concentrating on position off the tee and on the greens. He said it was a matter of "trying to get the attitude right from the word go."
"This golf course is difficult," he said. "Good shots are going to finish in bad spots, and you've got to really, really grind hard. It's not going to give you a lot of opportunities."
Kaymer received his share on Thursday and posted a terrific start.