SOUTHPORT, England – Branden Grace posted the lowest 18-hole score in 157 years and 422 major championships, and he didn’t even know it.
He knocked in his short par putt on the final hole at Royal Birkdale for a 62 when his caddie, Zack Raswego, walked up to him and said, “You’re in the history books.”
Grace didn’t know what he meant.
The 29-year-old South African was so locked in on a flawless round Saturday at the British Open that he wasn’t even aware of the scoring record. Grace was only thinking about trying to get through the third round without a bogey.
“I had no idea that a 62 was obviously the lowest ever,” Grace said. “Now it makes it even more special than what it was.”
Grace pounced on a serene day that was ideal for scoring at Royal Birkdale with a 29 on the front nine. And after a lull to start the back nine, he resumed his march with a 36-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th, a birdie putt from just inside 30 feet on No. 16, and then he moved to 8 under on his round by hitting 3-iron onto the green at the par-5 17th for a two-putt birdie.
From about 60 feet behind the 18th green, he rolled a beautiful lag to 2 feet and tapped in for the record.
Johnny Miller shot his famous 63 in the final round at Oakmont in 1973 to win the U.S. Open. Since then, 28 players posted a 63 in the majors 30 times, most recently by Justin Thomas in the U.S. Open last month at Erin Hills.
No one ever got lower — until Grace.
“Look at that number! That is sweet,” Miller, now a golf analyst, said as NBC flashed a 62 on the screen.
With his name in the record book, still to be determined was whether he had a chance to add his name to the claret jug. Grace, who made the cut by one shot, finished at 4-under 206. He was two shots behind Jordan Spieth, who was on the range still warming up, when Grace finished.
Spieth shot a 65, however, and the day ended with Grace seven shots out of the lead.
Grace wasn’t the only player to take advantage. Fifteen players shot 66 or better. Dustin Johnson missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 16th and failed to birdie the par-5 17th from the fairway and still shot 64.
“You still have to do it out there,” said Grace, who said par felt more like 67 than 70 because of the light wind and turf that was on the soft side. “There’s a lot of spots you want to keep out of on this golf course. And I did it today. So just fortunate the way things finished.”
He played the third round with Jason Dufner, who shot a 63 at Oak Hill in the second round of the PGA Championship four years ago. Dufner also had a shot at 62, facing a 10-foot birdie on the last hole. He left it well short and barely made the par for 63.
“It’s kind of neat to be a part of history,” Dufner said. “It’s a great experience for him. It was semi-cool for me.”
Grace’s record score came one year after Phil Mickelson almost became the first to shoot 62 until his birdie putt on the 18th at Royal Troon in the first round swirled around the edge of the cup.
And there were others over the years. Tiger Woods had a vicious lip-out in his bid for 62 in the second round of the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. And then there was Jack Nicklaus in the first round of Baltusrol for the 1980 U.S. Open. He missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and had to settle for a 63.
Now, there’s a new standard for scoring in the majors.
Grace’s record score came 44 years after Miller was the first to shoot 63 in a major. Miller’s record was 33 years after Lloyd Mangrum was the first to shoot 64 in a major, at the 1940 Masters.