Grace breaks major championship record with Saturday 62
Beneath a sun-splashed sky and in front of thousands of cheering fans, Branden Grace made major history Saturday at The Open.
Grace bent Royal Birkdale to his will during the third round, firing an 8-under 62 that shattered the scoring barrier that had held back so many others in golf’s biggest events.
When it comes to men's majors, 63 has been the magic number for decades. It’s a plateau that has been reached in all four majors, including The Open. It’s a score that was shot by Grace’s playing partner, Jason Dufner, at the 2013 PGA Championship and even seen at Royal Birkdale back in 1991, when Jodie Mudd shot the low round of the tournament.
But on the toughest courses and against the strongest fields, it had never been bettered until Grace took the Southport links by storm – even if he remained blissfully unaware as he approached uncharted territory.
“I was just so in the zone of playing, hole after hole. I knew I was obviously playing really well,” Grace said. “I knocked in the 2-footer or 3-footer and (caddie) Zack (Rasego) came up and said, ‘You’re in the history books.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So obviously now it makes the day even sweeter."
It was bound to happen eventually, but Royal Birkdale wasn’t supposed to be the venue that finally relented. Mudd’s low round aside, this is a place where 3 over and Even have won The Open the last two times it has hosted the event. It’s also a course that battered players during a blustery second round, where rain squalls rolled through and only eight players broke par.
But the field awoke to an unfamiliar course Saturday, one softened by rain and no longer protected by a stiff breeze. After two days of par being an admirable effort, players feasted on a course now stripped of its defenses.
None did that better than Grace, who made five birdies en route to an outward 29. He added another on the 14th and rolled in a lengthy putt on No. 16 before a two-putt birdie on the par-5 17th put him on the precipice of history.
His approach to the final green sailed just over the green and into a small swale, but he played a deft lag putt to within 3 feet and swept it in with his 62nd stroke of the day.
Grace was not the only player to take advantage of ideal conditions Saturday. Unheralded Shaun Norris carded a 65 in the day's first tee time, a score that Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson later matched. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson did one better, shooting a 64 to move into red figures for the week.
But none went quite as low as the 29-year-old South African who missed only two greens in regulation during his record-breaking round.
"To do it at The Open Championship is pretty special," Grace said. "It's something I really enjoyed and something I'll remember forever, definitely."
Grace has played well in majors before, most notably the 2015 U.S. Open when an errant drive down the stretch cost him a chance at the trophy. After starting the day 10 shots behind Jordan Spieth, the South African moved to within two of the lead after holing his final putt.
That gap is sure to widen before day’s end, but he’ll still have an opportunity Sunday to follow his history-making performance – and perhaps slip his hands around the Claret Jug after barely making the cut.
“It’s always hard to follow a good round, because you go out with the same expectations that you are playing well,” Grace said. “You should do something similar, and it doesn’t always work that way. Tomorrow I have to stick to the same routines. I tried to do things a little differently today that I’m going to try to do tomorrow, and just going to keep it simple. That’s it. Give yourself the chances.”
After years of close calls and near-misses, the 63 barrier has finally been broken in a major. The next low round will have a new target to match, and given the skill of today's players it's possible that Grace could have some company in short order.
"That's the way this game goes, though," said Dufner's caddie, Kevin Baile. "You crack that pot and then everybody's doing it."
For now, though, Grace's name deservedly stands alone atop the mountain after a mesmerizing performance that created a new chapter in major championship lore.