On a clear, calm day in Southport, England, one of golf’s most hallowed records was finally broken.
Branden Grace, a 29-year-old from South Africa, became the first player in major-championship history to shoot a sub-63 round, when he brushed in a 3-foot par putt on the 18th hole for an 8-under 62.
"It was a special day to be quite honest," Grace said. "I had no idea today was the lowest, at all. I was just so in the zone and playing so well that I was just trying to finish the round without a bogey.
"Sometimes it helps not knowing these things."
Like a middle-distance runner's quest to spin a sub-4-minute mile in the 1950s, a 62 was for decades one of golf's most unbreakable barriers. In 157 years of majors, a 63 has been shot 31 times by 29 players -- Vijay Singh and Greg Norman did it twice -- most recently by Justin Thomas last month at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Many of the game's biggest stars had near-misses. In the opening round of the 1980 U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus blew a three-footer on the final hole for 62. In the second round of the 2007 PGA Championship, Tiger Woods's 16-foot putt on the final hole hit the edge of the cup and spun out. Woods later referred to his score as "62-and-a-half." In the opening round of last year’s British Open, Phil Mickelson lipped out his own 18-foot putt for history. Said Mickelson afterward: "I want to cry."
But there were no tears on Saturday at Royal Birkdale, as Grace's bogey-free round propelled him into a tie for second place. Grace has won seven titles on the European tour and once on the PGA Tour; his best major-championship finish is third place at the 2015 PGA. As Grace enjoyed a post-round media victory lap, the weather remained ripe for low scoring, making it conceivable that the floodgates open for multiple sub-63 rounds.
Johnny Miller, who hit all 18 greens while shooting 63 in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont, watched the record fall from a perch in the NBC broadcast booth.
"That's gotta be fun for him. That is sweet," Miller said after Grace's final putt dropped.
The broadcast later showed an interview with Grace and a breakdown by Miller, who noted the relatively simple course setup and perfect weather. Earlier in the day, Mickelson's former caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, who is working his first event in a new role as Golf Channel reporter, predicted that the record would be broken.