LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Riddle me this, golf fans: If records were made to be broken, then why does one of golf’s most prestigious marks continually get passed down like a family heirloom from one generation to the next without ever being surpassed?
That isn’t meant to be a trick question, but trying to break the 63 barrier in a major championship has proven to be the trickiest of circumstances for everyone who has ever played the game.
They’ve been contesting at least one of the four for more than a century-and-a-half, this week’s Open Championship serving as the 423rd edition of what’s now known as the modern majors. Twenty-five times a player has come within one stroke of shooting 62. That’s 25 separate occasions when one putt hung on the lip instead of falling into the hole or turned right at the last moment instead of keeping its path, each time ensuring that history was preserved.
You may have heard a little bit about the first player to post 63 in a major. It was Johnny Miller, who netted the number in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club – and yes, the story does tend to surface from time to time.
Since then, he’s been joined by an elite list that reads like a who’s who in golf’s illustrious history. From Jack Nicklaus to Gary Player, Greg Norman to Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart to Jose Maria Olazabal. There is only an occasional Jodie Mudd or Bruce Crampton or Michael Bradley to give hope to the other mortals.
In 2003, Vijay Singh missed birdie putts of 8, 12 and 25 feet on his final three holes of the U.S. Open second round to shoot 62. Four years later, Tiger Woods barely missed a final-hole birdie putt in Round 2 of the PGA Championship, leaving him with what was deemed a “62½.” And in 2010, Rory McIlroy couldn’t sink a short putt on the penultimate hole during the opening round at St. Andrews, only tying the mark as well.
On Thursday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, it appeared the record may finally – mercifully – be broken.
After reaching 6 under through 15 holes on the par-70 course, Adam Scott needed to play his final three holes in 2 under in order to secure the number that has eluded every other golfer to compete in a major championship. He fired a dart for an approach on No. 16, leaving him with an easy birdie, which meant he needed to post just one more in his final two holes.
And then he started thinking about it.
“I was waiting to use the bathroom going to the 17th tee,” he later explained. “I did a look at the leaderboard and realized it was a par 70.”
Scott is a bright guy, one of the more introspective thinkers in the game today. Apparently he’s good with a little quick math, too, because he quickly understood what was riding on his impending finish.
Then he just as quickly understood that he shouldn’t have understood that.
“I also probably then realized that I wasn't going to be the guy to shoot 62,” he said. “It's one of those things that you don't want to go through your mind, thinking about your final score and stuff like that.”
Turns out, he was absolutely right.
Scott emerged from the bathroom and carded a par on the 17th hole, leaving one last chance to break the seemingly unbreakable achievement. His 2-iron off the tee on the par-4 final hole found the left rough. From there, he was only able to punch out of the thick heather, leaving himself about a 100-yard wedge shot from the fairway for the previously unattainable number.
Not only did the punched wedge shot fail to find the hole, but it only caught the front of the green, leading to a two-putt bogey and a 6-under 64 – one stroke shy of tying the 25-man major record.
“You know, making a bogey here or there is fine,” conceded Scott, who made two on the day. “Making doubles and triples (are) what really hurts. So just getting out of trouble was good.”
In the annals of history, Scott’s score may have left something to be desired, that magic number still composing its 153-year disappearing act.
In terms of this tournament, though, it was certainly nothing to hang his head over. The 64 gave him a one-stroke advantage in his latest attempt to claim a first career major victory.
After a lengthy bout of struggles on the first decade of his major championship resume, Scott has finished eighth or better in three of the last six. There are a few players who have come out of nowhere to win a major title without previously contending, but most take the circuitous route of Scott, stumbling along before increasingly bettering their performance level and finally breaking through.
His latest chance to earn some hardware may also be his greatest.
“I haven't achieved my goal of winning major championships,” Scott said. “That's what I've dreamt of as a kid and that's what I made goals when I turned pro and what I've thought about since turning pro, so I guess I haven't achieved that. … I've won a couple of tournaments most years, which is a good habit to have, because it's getting harder and harder to win out here. And I'm looking for a win this year. But I would say I haven't achieved what I wanted until I win a major or more.”
He almost achieved one major mark on Thursday, falling just shy of becoming the first player to post 62 in one of the four big events. Instead, the mystery of that magic number remains, the answer to a trick question that every player has asked, but none has ever solved.