HOW GOOD, REALLY, WAS THOMAS’ 63?
Was Justin Thomas’ round one for the ages... or was Johnny Miller correct?
‘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.
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.