News & Opinion

Amazing Grace hits high notes at Birkdale

SOUTHPORT, England – After a day when British Open competitors exacted their revenge on Royal Birkdale, the question stands: What to make of Branden Grace’s 62?

Historic, absolutely, as Grace’s 8-under score in Saturday’s third round beat the 63s posted 31 previous times in major championships.

But still, many wonder how a course that gave up a scoring average of 69.026, could then take the day’s low round as historic.

Even Grace conceded that par on Saturday likely was 67, or 3 under.

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Branden Grace

Branden Grace

The R&A set up the course Saturday at 7,027 yards, 129 yards shorter than the scorecard yardage.

Even in the course setup notes provided by the R&A, officials talk about the fact that they moved up the tee at No. 5 from 346 yards to 310 yards to make the hole a drivable par 4.

Starting at 11:25 in the 13th game, Grace played 4½ hours ahead of 36-hole leader Jordan Spieth, who would extend his lead to three strokes with a bogey-free 65.

The pressure was not identical for Grace, and the mindset was not the same. Entering the round 10 strokes behind and in 45th place, he could afford to be aggressive, in the hopes of closing on Spieth and the other pursuers.

Would Grace have shot 62 if he had been among the leaders after 36 holes? Likely not, but does it matter? 62 is still 62.

“I was so in the zone and so focused on what I was doing, and obviously, there were some great birdie chances in the homeward stretch there,” Grace said. “I was just concentrating on making good swing after good swing and making birdies.”

Feeling no pressure, Grace focused on his game and not on the situation. That could change today. He enters the final round tied for fifth but seven strokes behind Spieth and four behind runner-up Matt Kuchar (scores: http://bit.ly/1j3khNH).

Johnny Miller shot the first 63 in a major championship with a historic final round to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Although the 63 had been matched 30 subsequent times in major championships, the number held up for 44 years.

“He played really, really well, no doubt,” Miller said on NBC’s broadcast of the Open. “Eight birdies, no bogeys, hit 10 out of 14 fairways, 16 out of 18 greens and 28 putts. Twenty-eight putts is quite a few putts to shoot 62. So, he did it with his ball-striking. He had to go through the gantlet, and those putts that he made coming in were really strong, and he drove the ball terrific. He made the course really easy, and it was set up really, really easy today. But still, a heck of a round.”

Translation, easy golf courses help produce low scores.

Yet, Grace still had to produce the shots and hole the putts, and he did it at a level that no one matched.

Presuming that nobody equals the feat today or at next month’s PGA Championship, Grace’s 62 will stand as a monument in major-championship golf. Golf historians won’t talk about the soft conditions, lack of wind or one of the lowest scoring averages in major-championship history.

The 62 will stand amid any possible doubt.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli