Amaz­ing Grace!

¡South African Bran­den Grace posts first ever 62 at a ma­jor ¡Jor­dan Spi­eth is three strokes in front at eleven un­der ¡Poul­ter and McIl­roy fade to nine off lead as Amer­i­cans charge

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - James Cor­ri­gan GOLF COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Royal Birk­dale

Grace of­fered us his­tory. Birk­dale of­fered us as many thrills on an Open Satur­day as we can re­mem­ber, and Jor­dan Spi­eth of­fered us a three­shot lead who no­body should look past, what­ever their mem­o­ries of last year’s Masters ca­pit­u­la­tion.

By this evening, we should en­vis­age not only toast­ing the first 62 ever shot in 157 years of the ma­jors – af­ter, in­cred­i­bly, 31 play­ers fir­ing 63s – but also only the sec­ond male ever to win three dif­fer­ent ma­jors be­fore the age of 24.

Tiger Woods did not man­age it, but Jack Nick­laus did. That is the cal­i­bre of leg­end against which Spi­eth is vy­ing. And on a day when this rain-soaked, gust-free links has never seemed so com­pli­ant, the young Texan man­aged to do that most dif­fi­cult of tasks for a front-run­ner and in­crease the ad­van­tage while ev­ery­one else is fu­ri­ously sprint­ing in be­hind.

If Spi­eth picks up the Claret Jug, to go with the green jacket and the US Open tro­phy, he will only need the USPGA’s Wana­maker Tro­phy next month to com­plete the ca­reer grand slam. He would be the youngest ever.

There is, of course, a long, long way to go be­fore that and his next 18 holes will not be straight­for­ward, re­gard­less of his com­mand­ing cush­ion. Af­ter a 65, with two birdies in the last four, he is on 11-un­der, with Matt Kuchar, his Ry­der Cup part­ner, on eigh­tun­der af­ter a 66.

Kuchar, 39, ap­peared ready to push Spi­eth all the way un­til he dou­ble-bo­geyed the 16th when fall­ing for Bik­dale’s pot-bunker trap. Yet a birdie on the 17th showed this golf­ing bride­maid’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to storm the al­tar at last and he will again be in the fi­nal group with Spi­eth.

Once more it seems a two-horse sce­nario, but per­haps Brooks Koepka is also a chal­lenger, the US Open chal­lenger com­pil­ing a 68 to stand at five-un­der. Yet he is six be­hind and even though Eng­son, land’s Danny Wil­lett – the 2016 Masters cham­pion – has the ev­i­dence that Spi­eth is not as­sured of vic­tory with a size­able lead even on the back nine, it would take a brave per­son to bet against Spi­eth.

Along­side Koepka is a Cana­dian, Austin Con­nelly, who has the same coach as Spi­eth in Cameron McCormick, but none of the gar­lands. He is 5ft 7in and un­der 11st and a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Tour with a best fin­ish of eighth. His fairy­tale dis­play only added more glit­ter to a party-like oc­ca­sion.

The only black mark on a day of ticks was the R&A’s de­ci­sion to ac­cede to Amer­i­can TV re­quests and put the last group out at as late as 3.55pm. Ridicu­lous.

It al­most gave the ven­er­a­ble golf­ing body a scorch mark on the pos­te­rior when there was a thun­der and light­ning warn­ing is­sued at 6.15pm, the time when the lead­ers should re­ally be walk­ing up the last.

It would have been crim­i­nal to have al­lowed a huge, ir­rev­o­ca­ble, wet blotch to spoil this won­der­ful third round. We can only pray they learn the les­son. TV sec­ond; money, sec­ond. Tour­na­ment first; play­ers and fans first. Shame on them. As it was, the cli­max fea­tured pour­ing rain, with the pun­ters who had been so happy, sud­denly be­ing forced to run out of the gates. At least they saw a 29-year-old from Pre­to­ria grab sport­ing im­mor­tal­ity.

Grace has never been scared to go low. But ig­no­rance is bliss, and he did not re­alise the sig­nif­i­cance of go­ing as low as 62. Since Jonny Miller shot a 63 in the fi­nal round of the US Open at Oak­mont in 1973 – which in a lot of the opin­ions of the ex­perts, es­pe­cially Jonny’s, is the finest 18 holes ever played – no­body has ever shot lower than 63.

There have been 30 oth­ers on the num­ber, but greats such as Tiger Woods, Greg Nor­man, Vi­jay Singh and Rory McIl­roy have come within an an­gel hair’s breath of low­er­ing the mark. They all failed. It took Mr In­scrutable to end the curse.

Many will ar­gue that it is not the great­est round in one of the big four, but purely on num­bers – i.e. scores added up – they are wrong. It be­came ob­vi­ous – to the rest of us any­way – when he went out in a five-un­der 29 that there were pos­si­bil­i­ties and when he birdied the 14th they be­came prob­a­bil­i­ties.

Yet he failed to birdie the 15th – yank­ing an eight-footer – and the game of golf thought ‘here we go again’. Grace had other ideas, rolling in an out­ra­geous 35-footer on the 16th, af­ter what, in truth, was a pretty ropey tee-shot, and then birdieing the 17th af­ter two splen­did shots on the heart of par-five green.

He ner­vously parred – or per­haps not – and must have won­dered what the din was about. It was the ideal hors d’oeu­vre for a golf­ing feast.

Dustin John­son, the world No1, was tear­ing in and af­ter a 64 for a three-un­der to­tal will still be given a whis­per by some. McIl­roy seemed pos­sessed when he started with three birdies in the first five holes, ef­fort­lessly driv­ing the par­four fifth.

He was to suf­fer a mini-im­plo­sion from the sev­enth, bo­gey­ing two of the next four holes and dou­ble-bo­gey­ing one af­ter driv­ing into a pot bunker and then al­most find­ing an­other. Although he stead­ied the ship by birdieing the 15th – miss­ing a 10-footer for an ea­gle – he is again sail­ing into a de­cent fin­ish at a ma­jor but not the des­ti­na­tion his tal­ents de­mand.

Af­ter stand­ing at five-over af­ter his first six holes on Thurs­day, he seemed like one of those race­horses who had made all the ground back up be­fore run­ning out of en­ergy again. He sounded at a loss.

“It’s hard to think big-pic­ture now, I’m just off the golf course and I’m a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed.,” he said. “This week has been a step in the right di­rec­tion, there’s no doubt about it. And I need to pick my­self up, play a good round to­mor­row and hope for some bad weather. And hope for some guys to strug­gle.

“Yeah, I def­i­nitely feel like to­day was an op­por­tu­nity lost to get right in the mix go­ing into to­mor­row.”

He is on the same mark as Ross Fisher, who with a 66 joined Ian Poul­ter as England’s best hope of end­ing the 25-year Open drought. A for­lorn hope. Poul­ter could not join the birdie charge, play­ing solidly enough un­til the 10th, when reach­ing four-un­der be­fore a surely fa­tal hat-trick of bo­geys in a row. The per­ils of Birk­dale in one small act.

If Spi­eth picks up the Claret Jug he would only need the USPGA next month for his ca­reer grand slam

The eyes have it: Bran­den Grace shows his de­light af­ter be­com­ing the first man to shoot a 62 in a ma­jor. “I had no idea I was about to shoot the low­est round ever,” he said af­ter­wards

His­tory man: Bran­den Grace on the 18th green (right), and the tour­na­ment leader Jor­dan Spi­eth (be­low)

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