ERIN, Wis. — A U. S. Open short on big names — with a leaderboard that at times seemed like a phonebook of random people — found a bright star under a partially
ERIN, Wis. — A U. S. Open short on big names — with a leaderboard that at times seemed like a phonebook of random people — found a bright star under a partially cloudy sky at Erin Hills.
Justin Thomas made history on Saturday when he shot a 63. His 9-under score was the lowest relative to par in U. S. Open history, and the 63 tied the 8-under mark set by Johnny Miller at Oakmont in 1973.
As good as that round was, Thomas has not run away with the tournament. In fact, he’s not even leading after three rounds. Brain Harman has a one-shot lead at 12 under. Tied with Thomas at 11 under are Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood. Rickie Fowler is at 10 under.
“I’m not sure when it’s going to sink in or when I’m going to realize what I did, ” Thomas said. “I know one thing, if it happened tomorrow and the result is what I want it to be, then I’d probably have a different feeling. I’m just so excited to give myself a great chance to win this golf tournament.”
Thomas’ dramatics happened on the 18th when he hit his second-shot 3-wood more than 300 yards on the par-5,667-yard finishing hole. The ball hit just short of the green and popped forward and rolled 8 feet, 1 inch past the hole.
“Oh gosh, Jimmy, be good, ” he said to caddie Jimmy Johnson when the ball was in the air.
“I obviously needed to nuke it, ” Thomas said of his 3-wood, which he later called his best of the round. “But I just felt like I could get it up in the air enough to hold the green as soft as they were. And it came out nicely.”
After waiting while playing partner Jonathan Thomas hit his third, fourth, fifth and sixth shots, Thomas stood over his ball for a couple seconds and rolled it in for an eagle.
“I was excited to take the lead, ” Thomas said. “I was excited to shoot 63. I had no idea that 9 under was the best ever in an Open, so that was pretty cool once I saw my card. The guys at the scoring table told me that, so I was pretty pumped.”
Thomas started his record round with birdies on the first two holes. On one, a par 5, he was 85 feet short of the hole on his second shot and got the easy up and down. On the 331-yard second hole, his drive was 46 feet short of the hole and, again, he got up and down.
He gave back a stroke on No. 4 when his drive went into the right fescue and his second shot was over the green. He got down in three from there. He birdied the fifth with a 19-foot putt.
Then he had a run of three birdies. On No. 7, he sank a 15 footer. On 8, he put his 154-yard approach shot to about 2 feet and made the putt. And on No. 9, he made a 21-foot putt.
He bogeyed the 10th hole when he hit a bad second shot right of the green. Then he picked up a birdie on 12 with a 9-footer. He drove the green on the 288-yard, par-4 15th and got down in two. And then he made a 27 footer on 17 before eagling the history-making 18th hole.
The 24-year-old Louisville native is not new to success. He won the first two tournaments of this year, both in Hawaii. In the Sony Open, he became the seventh player to shoot a sub-60 round with a 59. He won that tournament by seven shots.
There were a lot of low scores Saturday. The course took an inch of rain overnight, making it about as menacing as a Golden Retriever puppy.
Thirty-two players had sub-par rounds on Saturday, the most ever for the third round.
“It was definitely conducive for good scores [Saturday] , ” Thomas said. “When you give us soft greens and not much wind, you know there are going to be some good scores. I was just happy that I was the one to take advantage of it today.”
Harman, who is hoping to become the first lefthander to win the U. S. Open, must have felt overlooked given Thomas’ accomplishment. But, obviously, his 67 with six birdies and one bogey was a pretty good round.
He had a chance to extend his lead to two but missed an 11-footer for birdie on 18.
“I’m motivated by the fact that I’ve made a plan and I’ve stuck to the plan so far, ” Harman said. “Obviously I have no idea what [Sunday] holds, but I’m more motivated by the way I’m striking the ball. It’s the best I’ve struck the ball in a long time. And my short game is pretty good. I’ve been putting it pretty good. So I’m excited about all those things.”
Harman, 30, joined the PGA Tour in 2012 and has won two tournaments, including the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this year.
There are 15 players within seven strokes, so it’s still a wide open tournament.
“It’s going to be weird, ” Thomas said about the time he has to pass before teeing off on Sunday. “I don’t know what I’m going to feel tonight or if I’m going to sleep well.… But I know I’m going to be nervous, but it’s a good nervous. That’s why I play, to get myself in this position.”
One thing you can count on for certain on Sunday is that the streak of six majors being won by a first-time winner will grow to seven.
The highest former major winners are Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen at 4 under, tied for 17th.
Patrick Reed shot 7-under 65 to finish at 8 under. It would have been the round of the day had Thomas not shot 63.
Fowler, sharing a house with Thomas this week, was being left behind until he ran off three straight birdies and shot 68.
“It’s going to be a really cool day for someone tomorrow, ” Fowler said. “I’m looking forward to my shot at it. I’ve been there a handful of times and had some good finishes. But I’m looking forward to getting the job done.”
An Associated Press report is included.
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