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Deconstructing 63: Thomas’ Historic Round in Perspective

June 17, 2017 Erin, Wis. By Dave Shedloski

The list of players who have recorded a 63 in a major championship is extensive and includes both great players, like Jack Nicklaus, and relative unknowns, like Mark Hayes. It also includes Brad Faxon, one of the broadcasters of this week’s 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills.

But the father of the record, the first to do it, was Johnny Miller 44 years ago in the U.S. Open.

Miller, who followed up his Hall of Fame playing career with an acclaimed run as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, won the 1973 U.S. Open when he blitzed fearsome Oakmont Country Club for an 8-under-par 63, a remarkable score that allowed him to overcome a six-stroke deficit starting the day. Since then, 30 other players have reached that number – but no one has exceeded it.

The latest, of course, was Justin Thomas on Saturday at Erin Hills with a ball-striking round arguably better than Henrik Stenson’s a year ago in The Open Championship at Royal Troon, when he joined Miller as the second player to win a major shooting 63 in the final round.

Thomas, 24, of Goshen, Ky., is the fifth player to record a 63 in the U.S. Open. After Miller, Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf recorded 63s to begin the 1980 U.S. Open won by the Golden Bear at Baltusrol, Nicklaus’ record-tying fourth victory. And in 2003 at Olympia Fields, Vijay Singh submitted a second-round 63. But he didn’t go on to win the championship; Jim Furyk prevailed for his only major title.

Singh had nothing to be ashamed of. Only seven of the 29 previous 63 shooters went on to win. And he was one of them when he won the 1993 PGA at Sahalee with a second-round 63.

It remains to be seen if Thomas will become the eighth. One thing is for sure. He won’t be afraid to go for another low one Sunday. “Obviously I enjoyed going low. When I get it going, I don't fear, like I used to, kind of stalling. I’m like, let's get to 8, let's get to 9, whatever it is.”

The 63s by Nicklaus, Weiskopf and Singh were all recorded on par-70 layouts. With his 9-under performance, Thomas is the first to beat Miller’s record in relation to par. He also completes the U.S. Open cycle of 63s, with his the first to be posted in the third round.

What is remarkable about Thomas’ feat – besides his eagle 3 on the 667-yard, par-5 18th hole – is that he suffered two bogeys in the round, including a three-putt at the par-4 10th. Miller has said that he hardly missed a shot in his record run. “I think my average approach shot was like 15 feet,” he once said. “Every shot was right at the pin.”

Thomas’ performance, coming just five months after he eagled his last hole for a 59 at Waialae Country Club in the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii, most closely resembles Singh’s at Olympia Fields. Winner of three majors, Singh also had two bogeys, including a three-putt on the par-5 sixth hole.

Since Miller started this nonsense, there have been a few serious runs at 62. Tiger Woods at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills and Phil Mickelson in the first round of The Open Championship last year at Troon both lipped out birdie putts at the last, as did Miller himself on his 20-foot birdie bid on the 18th hole.

But the player who had the best shot was Nicklaus in 1980. The Bear bogeyed the first hole and then made eight birdies. At the par-5 closing hole he nearly reached the green in two. After a chip to 3 feet, he “chickened out” on the putt, a slick downhiller. Nicklaus returned to Baltusrol during the 2005 PGA Championship and was asked about tying the mark Miller made famous.

“I remember I missed a little tiny putt at the last hole for 62,” he said. “I’m still mad about it.”

At least he won the championship.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.