HOW GOOD, RE­ALLY, WAS THOMAS’ 63?

Was Justin Thomas’ round one for the ages... or was Johnny Miller cor­rect?

Golf World (UK) - - Us Open Review -

‘A 63 FOR A PAR 72 IS A HECK OF A SCORE, EVEN IF IT WAS THE ‘MIL­WAU­KEE OPEN’’

It has long been one of golf’s spook­ier anom­alies. And when Justin Thomas nipped round in nine un­der par on day three at Erin Hills it rep­re­sented the 31st time some­one had shot a 63 in a ma­jor cham­pi­onship (two men, Greg Norman and Vi­jay Singh, have done it twice). Re­mark­able.

Sta­tis­ti­cally, Thomas’ ef­fort – one that in­cluded nine birdies, an ea­gle and two bo­geys – rep­re­sents the best of the lot in that it is, rel­a­tive to par, the low­est-ever score in any of the four ma­jors.

But, as ever, there were those un­able to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to pooh-pooh its qual­ity at the end of a day in which no fewer than 32 men broke par.

Pre­dictably, at the head of that queue was Johnny Miller. The 1973 US Open cham­pion at Oak­mont, Miller shot the first-ever 63 in a ma­jor to clinch an un­likely vic­tory on the fi­nal day – and hasn’t re­ally stopped talk­ing about it since.

“Tak­ing noth­ing away from nine un­der par,” said the Amer­i­can. “Nine un­der is in­cred­i­ble with US Open pres­sure. But it isn’t a US Open course that I’m fa­mil­iar with, the way it was set up.

“It looks like a PGA Tour event course set-up. I’m not sure where the days of the 24 to 29-yard-wide fair­ways that we played ev­ery time went. It’s in­ter­est­ing to see where the USGA has gone with the US Open, be­ing a lit­tle more friendly than in years past.

“Plus, Erin Hills isn’t ex­actly Oak­mont. It was go­ing to get bro­ken, and it was most likely go­ing to get bro­ken on a par-72 course, with four par 5s. That re­ally helps. With course set-up and rain, it was a per­fect storm for a good score. The course wasn’t de­signed to be soft, and if it was go­ing to be soft, it should have been 26 or 27-yard-wide fair­ways. That’s what made it easy. The guys aren’t afraid to bomb it.

“It was never that way in the US Open. It was al­ways about re­ally tight fair­ways and hav­ing to be a great driver. This went to­tally against the tra­di­tion of the US Open. But a 63 for a par 72 is a heck of a score, even if it was the ‘Mil­wau­kee Open’.”

To be fair, Miller has a case. His round in 1973, for ex­am­ple, came on a day when only two other men broke 70. But that didn’t stop many of Thomas’ peers leap­ing quickly to his de­fence.

For­mer US PGA cham­pion Jason Dufner tweeted: “My boy @JustinThomas34 shoots a 63 at US Open, and all I see and hear is com­par­isons to an­other 63 that hap­pened 44 years ago. #ex­haust­ing.”

Speak­ing on the Golf Chan­nel, for­mer PGA Tour player Bran­del Cham­blee was equally com­pli­men­tary. “The clos­est I can get to how many rounds have been played in US Open his­tory is over 50,000 rounds,” he said. “To­day was an in­stant clas­sic. What you saw to­day we’ll be talk­ing about 30 years from now.”

In­deed, Thomas’ score was a fur­ther in­di­ca­tion of a bur­geon­ing tal­ent, al­beit one that has yet to fully flour­ish – like com­pa­triot Rickie Fowler – in ma­jor cham­pi­onship play. But this was a big step in the right di­rec­tion. Lest we for­get, know­ing 63 was his for the mak­ing, Thomas hit a 310-yard 3-wood to eight feet and made the putt.

“This means I’m a part of his­tory,” was his im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion. “Walk­ing up to the last green I said to my cad­die, ‘let’s try to be a part of his­tory here’. But I had no idea nine un­der was the best-ever in the US Open.”

One day af­ter mak­ing those nine birdies and the ea­gle, Thomas broke par on only one hole in a clos­ing 75 that dropped him into a tie for ninth. Ques­tions re­main.

THE TAKE­AWAY:

Thomas’ 63 was very im­pres­sive, no doubt, but there’s no get­ting away from the fact that it was achieved on a course set up to en­cour­age and re­ward the bombers. Cham­blee may have said we’ll be talk­ing about the round in 30 years’ time, but in all hon­esty, we re­ally won’t.

Thomas com­pleted his round with two ma­jes­tic hits into the 18th.

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