Saturday, July 22, 2017

Amazing Grace! South Africa's 62 at Royal

Birkdale is a Major low


SOUTHPORT, Lancashire -- Two years ago, Jack Nicklaus was asked about major golf's greatest scoring barrier. At the time, there were 26 rounds of 63 -- five more have since been added -- but never a 62. The most accomplished player in the game's history quickly offered a reason for why it had never happened.
"Why do I think it hasn't? Because I missed a 2-foot putt at Baltusrol to break it," he said of the final hole in his opening round at the 1980 U.S. Open, obviously still disturbed by the memory. "I choked."
Nicklaus then looked ahead to an inevitability. "It just hasn't happened, but it will. It used to be 64. Then it became 63. And it will become 62."
He was right, of course.
South African Branden Grace made eight birdies and no bogeys on the par-70 Royal Birkdale course today in the third round of The Open.
Under a blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds, after 157 years of major championships, at the 442nd ever contested, it finally happened. A golfer broke the proverbial four-minute mile.
Branden Grace carded eight birdies, 10 pars and no bogeys in impeccable conditions at Royal Birkdale, finishing his round by making a final 2-foot putt, just like the one that had eluded Nicklaus a generation ago.
"Obviously, what a special day," he said afterward. "And to do it at a special place at one of the events that I actually like playing, at The Open. ... What a special place to get myself into the history books."
This bit of history was served with a side dish of irony. While Grace didn't know the record for which he was aiming, the entire world watched him try to break it.
The ever-growing list of players who have posted 63 in a major can only be described as eclectic. There's Nicklaus, sure, and Tiger Woods; players we'd expect to reach such lofty heights. Then there's Jodie Mudd and Michael Bradley and Hiroshi Iwata -- hardly names littered through the game's record books.
By the time Grace stood over that final putt, there had been 110,346 major championship rounds completed in the Masters era. There was never anything lower than that number, never anything -- not that he knew it.
As soon as Grace knocked in that 2-footer on the final hole, his caddie, Zack Rasego, approached him.
"You're in the history books," Rasego told him.
"What are you talking about?" Grace responded.
He would find out soon enough.
"I didn't know what was going on at 18, I promise you," Grace later admitted. "I honestly didn't. You know, I was just so in the zone of playing, hole after hole. I knew I was obviously playing really well, and making the turn in 5 under was pretty special.
"And I thought if I could make a couple more on the back nine, then it's going to be a great score. I had no idea that 62 was obviously the lowest ever."

Until now, there were 9-under 63s on par-72 courses, there were 8-under 63s on par-71s, there were 7-under 63s on par-70s. All of which can make a compelling case for being the most desirable target score.
Upon Grace's finish, there was immediate debate as to whether his 8-under 62 was "better" than a 9-under 63. Specifically, whether it topped the famous 1973 U.S. Open final round of Johnny Miller, who was in the commentating booth to watch the record breaker.
Grace's answer was, well, graceful.
"Talking about this can go on forever," he explained. "Whether you shoot 63, 62 or 60, you have to do something right and things have to go your way to be able to do that. I'm not going to take anything away from a guy shooting 63 on a [par] 72 or anything of what I did today. All in all, some great golf."
As he spoke about the first 62, it appeared the record that was 157 years in the making could be matched -- or even broken -- within a few hours. Dustin Johnson was close for a while. Henrik Stenson, too.
Neither could break that barrier, though, nor could anyone else.
There is a new benchmark now, one which also will fall someday.
Just as Nicklaus knew that a 62 was inevitable, Grace immediately understood that his mark won't last forever. He will always be the first to break golf's four-minute mile, but that only means he's opened the gates for others.
"Sooner or later somebody is going to break 62," Grace insisted. "But hopefully it takes a while."



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