About those record-low scores in a major; Are all 63’s equal?

Jason Dufner joined an elite club by carding a 63 at last week’s major, but was it as good as when others have shot 63 at a major?

Jason Dufner's attempt to make history during the second round of the US PGA Championship.
Jason Dufner’s attempt to make history during the second round of the US PGA Championship.

The final major golf championship for 2013 finished on Sunday when Jason Dufner produced a stunning display of final round shot making to win the 2013 US PGA Championship by two strokes.

But there was also a lot of excitement during the tournament when golfers were looking to break the record-low score in a major, and it bugged me no end.

During the opening round, TV commentators were getting excited about the prospect of Jim Furyk and Adam Scott not only breaking the course record at Oak Hill (64) but matching the best ever round of golf in a major; exactly 63-strokes.

Neither player ended up breaking any records and both settled for impressive 5-under par 65’s. But on Friday history was made.

Webb Simpson was 7-under par through 15 holes having just made a birdie on the sixth hole (he played the back nine first). Could Simpson break the course record and make history by carding a 63? Something only 22 golfers have ever done before at a major.

Simpson bogeyed the seventh throwing a shot at history out of the window but finished with a superb 6-under par 64, matching the course record held by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange.

9-UNDER PAR 63’s at the MAJORS

The Masters
Nick Price 1986 3rd round (Finished 5th)
Greg Norman 1996 1st round (2nd)
The Open
Paul Broadhurst 1990 (St. Andrews) 3rd round (T15)
Rory McIlroy 2010 (St. Andrews) 1st round (T3)
PGA Championship
Gary Player 1984 (Shoal Creek) 2nd round (T2)
Jose Maria Olazabal 2000 (Valhalla) 3rd round (T4)

Simpson’s course record stood for only a few hours as eventual champion Jason Dufner rattled off five birdies and an eagle to shoot 63 and become the 23rd golfer to card this score in a major.

Now a 7-under par 63 is nothing to laugh at. I’d settle for a 7-over par on any golf course in the world, but are all 63’s the same?

It will surprise no golfer when I say that a 7-under par 63 is different from an 8-under par 63. In fact – if I can be so bold to say – neither of them are the same as a 9-under par 63, something only six golfers in history have ever achieved.

If you think I’m being pedantic about all this, consider a list of all the players to have shot a round of 71 at the majors. Some of these would be under-par, some even-par and some over-par all coming with a different reaction from each golfer as he walked off the 18th green.

Ok, so I am being pedantic but if I’m keeping a list of the best scores at a major, my list will be with respect to par thank you very much.

All of the 63’s have been achieved since 1973 when Johnny Miller set the new level at Oakmont with an 8-under par round and interestingly all the 9-under par 63’s have been carded since 1984. Gary Player was the first when he shot a second round 9-under par 63 at Shoal Creek at the US PGA Championship.

One might at first be tempted to suggest modern technology is the main reason for the more recent bias in record-low major rounds but I’d suggest a greater professionalism is the cause.

Professional golf ain’t what it used to be and aside from the technology, golfers are fitter, stronger and have access to better coaching methods than in previous decades. Longer golf courses and thicker rough – particularly on the American golf courses – have defended the majors quite well against modern technology, to the detriment of shot-making and fun.

But probably the most interesting point about the ’63 club’ is that the none of the six players who carded the most impressive 9-under par 63 went on to win the major. The best finishes came from Gary Player who finished in a tie for second at the 1984 US PGA Championship and Greg Norman who of course, ahem, finished second at the 1996 US Masters.

I know that merely raising this topic brings with it at least 63 cans of worms, including the fact that not all par-72 golf courses are equal for example. But this I do know; all of the “9-under six” would trade-in their history making 63 for another major victory, any day of the week.

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