Lowest Scores in Major Golf Championships - HowTheyPlay - Sports
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Lowest Scores in Major Golf Championships

Chris Price has watched golf on TV since the mid-1980s. In his early to mid 20s, he played extensively in the Mid Atlantic. He shot 77 once.

Mr. 62: Branden Grace

Image via Hanson K. Joseph at Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Image via Hanson K. Joseph at Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Lowest Scores in Golf History

In baseball, a perfect game involves a pitcher getting 27 hitters out without any of them reaching base. In football, a perfect game might involve a quarterback completing every pass to a teammate or a placekicker hitting on every attempt. Many basketball players have hit all of their field goal and free throw attempts during a game.

In golf, a theoretical perfect game would involve a player shooting 18 shots below par, which is the equivalent of a birdie on each hole (or a par or two offset by eagles). There has never been a perfect game in golf. The closest anyone has gotten is a score of 58. Two players on the world's major tours, Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and Jim Furyk of the US, have hit this low score. One player on the lower-ranked Web.com Tour and one on the Canadian Tour have shot a 58, as have a couple in qualifying school tournaments.

Before 2000, a score of 59 in competition was as rare as a 58 is today. Until 1999, only three players had carded a 59 on a major tour. To date (including the Hogan Tour and its successors), only 25 sub-60 rounds have been shot in competition on major tours. Only Furyk has been able to reach this lofty achievement twice. He shot the aforementioned 58 in the fourth round at the 2016 Travelers Championship and a 59 in the second round of the 2013 BMW Championship. Interestingly, he won neither event.

One woman, Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, shot a 59 in competition. She achieved this in the 2001 Standard Register PING Tournament. Unlike Furyk, Sorenstam was able to win the tournament.

Highlights From Jim Furyk's Record-Breaking 58

What Qualifies as a Major Championship?

In golf, there are four major championships on the calendar each year. Three of them occur in the US. The oldest major, the Open Championship, takes place in the United Kingdom. The majors have traditionally occurred between April and August each year. However, the US PGA Championship has moved to May from its traditional place in August. Here is a list of the four majors:

  • The Masters Championship
  • The US PGA Championship
  • The US Open Championship
  • The Open Championship (commonly known as the British Open on the American side of the pond)

Of the four majors, only The Masters is held at the same course on an annual basis. The Masters takes place at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, each April. The other major tournaments move around from year to year. The US and British Opens tend to go to the same courses on a regular basis, but they rotate among these courses. For example, Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, PA, has hosted the US Open nine times as of 2019. It's also hosted the PGA Championship on three occasions.

Johnny Miller Shooting 63 in a Major

Before 1973, no one had been able to shoot as low as 63 in a major championship. In that year's US Open, held at Oakmont, Johnny Miller shot a 63, which was eight shots below par for the course. Miller shot his 63 in the fourth, and final, round of the tournament and was able to erase a 6-shot deficit and win the trophy. This would be the last time a golfer shot a 63 in the final round and came back to win until Henrik Stenson achieved the feat at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland.

Johnny Miller in His Prime

Via Chuck Scardina at Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Via Chuck Scardina at Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

63 in a Major After Miller

Johnny Miller stood alone as the only player to shoot 63 in a major for only two years, when Bruce Crampton of Australia equaled his score in the PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

In a number of years since Miller first achieved the feat, three golfers have been able to shoot 63 in a major twice. Two golfers have shot a 63 at the same major in the same year on five occasions, most recently in the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis, MO.

As noted above, only two golfers shot a 63 in the final round to win a major—Johnny Miller and Henrik Stenson.

Some tournaments and courses appear to be more conducive to seeing a player go low and shoot a 63 or lower. For example, more rounds of major championship golf have been played at Augusta National Golf Club in The Masters than at any other course. However, only Nick Price in 1986 and Greg Norman in 1996 (the year of his massive collapse in the fourth round) have shot 63 in The Masters. This means that Augusta National has seen fewer rounds of 63 or below in a major than has Baltusrol, which has seen four in a mere fraction of the opportunities. It should be noted that The Masters usually has a much smaller field than the other majors. In 2019, only 87 players teed it up at Augusta. Six players have carded a 63 in the US Open, 12 have done so in the Open Championship, and 17 have completed the feat in the PGA.

In the first round of the 2019 PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka shot 63 in a major for the second time, matching his score from the second round of the 2018 PGA. He became only the third player to card a 63 more than once in a major, matching the record of two such rounds held by Greg Norman and Vijay Singh.

Does a 63 Win a Major?

Of the 37 times in which a player shot a 63 or below, only nine of the players have won the tournament, most recently Shane Lowry in the 2019 British Open. Seven have come in runner up. None have been cut, but three have failed to finish in the Top 25 for the tournament in which they shot a 63. Michael Bradley has the distinction of finishing tied for 54th after shooting a 63 in the first round of the 1995 PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club in California.

Therefore, it can definitely be stated that shooting a 63 in a major does little toward guaranteeing a victory. Of course, on five occasions, two players shot a 63 in the same major tournament, so one of them would have had to lose.

Tiger Woods Shot 63 in a Major in 2007

Official White House by Photo Joyce N. Boghosian, Public Domain

Official White House by Photo Joyce N. Boghosian, Public Domain

Can Only Great Players Shoot 63 in a Major?

It takes a very good golfer having a very good day to shoot a 63. Usually, the playing conditions have to be very good as well. However, not every player who has shot a 63 in a major championship has won a major at any point in his career.

Michael Bradley shot a 63, and he won a mere four tournaments on the PGA Tour for his career. He never cracked the Top 25 in a major. No disrespect intended to Jodie Mudd or Brad Faxon, but they shot 63 in majors and will never be in the discussion over the top players in history.

Being a great player does not guarantee going quite so low in a major, either. Arnold Palmer was well past his prime when Miller became the first to shoot a 63. Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, and Phil Mickelson are not among those who shot a 63 or lower in a major.

Highlights From Branden Grace's 62 at the Open

Branden Grace and the Record of 62 in a Major

On July 22, 2017, Branden Grace of South Africa did what no one else had ever achieved. While playing the third round of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in the UK, Grace shot a 62. Like the majority of players who have carded an exceptionally low score in a major, Grace failed to win the tournament. He finished 6th behind Jordan Spieth, who went wire-to-wire to win.

Grace had five birdies on the front nine, and he finished with three birdies in a four-hole stretch between the 14th and 17th. He had to two-putt for par from 60 feet to finish with a 62, which was eight shots below the par of 70 for the course. As of early 2019, Grace is the only player to shoot a 62 in a major. It took well above a century for someone to achieve this feat. If recent history is any indicator, it will likely happen again sooner, rather than later.

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