ERIN, Wis. – No, Justin Thomas isn’t leading the U.S. Open going into today’s final round but he’s definitely the man of the hour at Erin Hills.
The 24-year old from Louisville, Ky., shot the lowest round in the 117-year history of America’s premier golf championship on Saturday – a 9-under-par 63. He trails Brian Harman by one stroke going into the final 18 holes.
Johnny Miller posted the first 63 in U.S. Open history in the final round of the 1973 championship at Oakmont, in Pennsylvania. Oakmont was a par-71 course then, so Miller was 8-under par.
Three other players posted 63s in the Open. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf did it in 1980 and Vijay Singh in 2003. All were on par-70 courses, so they were 7-under. Only Thomas reached 9-under, and he did it despite making two bogeys along the way.
“That means I’m a part of history. It means I have a lot better cce to win the tournament than I did when the day started,’’ said Thomas. “It’s all pretty self-explanatory in terms of what it means. But just for me, I’ve been playing pretty well all week and didn’t quite have the numbers to show for it. Obviously today I definitely had something to show for it.’’
Thomas started the day at 2-under-par after a 73-69 start. He was in a 9-way tie for 24th place when he teed off and is tied for second with American Brooks Koepka and England’s Tommy Fleetwood heading into the tournament’s first-ever staging in Wisconsin and first in the Midwest since Olympia Fields hosted in 2003.
Thomas’ card featured 10 threes and a two. Put another way, he had 10 birdies, two bogeys, five pars and – in a finish that couldn’t have been more spectacular – an eagle. It came at the second-longest hole in Open history. Erin Hills’ finisher was set up at 637 yards on Saturday. Oakmont’s No. 12 played at 694 yards in the first round of last year’s U.S. Open.
Coming off a birdie at the 17th, Thomas hit 3-wood off the tee to stay clear of fairway bunkers and had a tough decision to make on his second shot.
“I had 310 to the hole, but it was downwind to where I knew if I hit it solid I could definitely get it there,’’ he said. “I also knew my miss, if I hit it off the bottom or got spiny, it was going to be in those front bunkers, which was fine. That was perfect. All my caddie and I were trying to do was give ourselves a chance to make four and get out of there.’’
Thomas went with the 3-wood and put it eight feet from the cup as the huge gallery around the green went crazy. Then Thomas had to wait to attempt his eagle putt because playing partner Jonathan Randolph was struggling his way to a bogey before Thomas could putt.
Once he did, though, the ball went straight into the hole and the cheers got even louder.
Thomas said Friday night rains helped on his long second shot. Without a softer-than-usual green he couldn’t have stopped a 3-wood on the putting surface. Once he did the considerations of posting a 63 came to mind.
“I knew what it was score-wise. I knew it was for 63. You’ve got leaderboards everywhere and you usually have an idea what you’re doing,’’ said Thomas. “But I had no idea in terms of 9-under being the best in the U.S. Open.’’
Thomas is no stranger to low scores. He became the youngest player to shoot a 59 on the PGA Tour when he did it en route to winning the Sony Open in Hawaii in January.
Prior to turning pro Thomas became the third youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event. He did it at age 16 in the 2009 Wyndham Classic before heading to the University of Alabama. He turned pro in 2013 and – prior to Saturday – his career highlight was back-to-back wins in Hawaii to begin the 2017 part of the PGA Tour season.