Monday, August 17, 2015

will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I shoot 64

Another major, another round which equalled the major championship scoring record for an individual round but didn't break it. You might expect that a major tournament which resulted in a new record for the overall finishing score in relation to par would have been a good candidate for seeing a new single-round record as well, but we didn't get one. Best round of the week was Hiroshi Iwata's 63 on Friday, which necessitates another revision to my list of major-championship 63s. Here's the up-to-date list:

Johnny MillerUS Open1973finalWONJohnny Miller
Bruce CramptonUSPGA1975second2ndJack Nicklaus
Mark HayesOpen1977secondtied 9thTom Watson
Jack NicklausUS Open1980firstWONJack Nicklaus
Tom WeiskopfUS Open1980first37thJack Nicklaus
Isao AokiOpen1980thirdtied 12thTom Watson
Raymond FloydUSPGA1982firstWONRaymond Floyd
Gary PlayerUSPGA1984secondtied 2ndLee Trevino
Nick PriceMasters1986third5thJack Nicklaus
Greg NormanOpen1986secondWONGreg Norman
Paul BroadhurstOpen1990thirdtied 12thNick Faldo
Jodie MuddOpen1991finaltied 5thIan Baker-Finch
Nick FaldoOpen1993second2ndGreg Norman
Payne StewartOpen1993final12thGreg Norman
Vijay SinghUSPGA1993second4thPaul Azinger
Michael BradleyUSPGA1995firsttied 54thSteve Elkington
Brad FaxonUSPGA1995final5thSteve Elkington
Greg NormanMasters1996first2ndNick Faldo
Jose Maria OlazabalUSPGA2000thirdtied 4thTiger Woods
Mark O’MearaUSPGA2001secondtied 22ndDavid Toms
Vijay SinghUS Open2003secondtied 20thJim Furyk
Thomas BjornUSPGA2005thirdtied 2ndPhil Mickelson
Tiger WoodsUSPGA2007secondWONTiger Woods
Rory McIlroyOpen2010firsttied 3rdLouis Oosthuizen
Steve Stricker USPGA2011firsttied 12thKeegan Bradley
Jason Dufner USPGA2013secondWONJason Dufner
Hiroshi Iwata USPGA2015secondtied 21stJason Day

A couple of further thoughts occurred to me: firstly that you can - broadly speaking - make a 63 in two ways: either by being on for a 64 and then holing a birdie putt at the last, or by needing a par for a 63 and getting it. Iwata was in the second group, and he got there by getting up and down for par from short of the 18th green. But there must be a subset of players in the second group who two-putted for a par, and therefore had a putt for a 62. I know, for instance, that the most recent two players on the list, Stricker and Dufner, fall into this category, and both putts were very makeable ones. These two interesting articles suggest that there were people who had shorter putts than that for 62s: Mark Hayes in 1977 had a six-footer for par on the last and missed, Greg Norman three-putted the last green in 1986, the crucial putt being from around five feet, and most surprisingly of all the great Jack Nicklaus had a putt of no more than two or three feet for a birdie on the 18th at Baltusrol in 1980 and missed it. That's one criterion for "closeness" to a 62, another would be how close what turned out to be the penultimate putt came to going in. Johnny Miller in 1973, Tiger Woods in 2007 and Nick Price in 1986 all had putts that got a pretty good portion of the hole before lipping out; Price claims his did a full circuit of the hole and still stayed out, though that story may have grown a bit in the telling, as war stories do.

My second thought was: at some point this 27-item list is going to be collapsed to a single item, whenever (as is pretty much bound to happen eventually) someone holes one of those putts for a 62 (or something even lower). But there must have been a point just before the 1973 US Open when there was a similar multiple-item list in existence featuring a whole host of players who'd shot 64 in a major championship. I wonder if it's possible to reconstruct that list?

Well, probably, but I'm not about to present you with anything that I'm claiming is complete or definitive. What I can tell you is as follows:
  • The first player to shoot 64 in a major championship was Lloyd Mangrum in the first round of the 1940 Masters, where he eventually finished second.
  • The first player to shoot 64 at the US Open was Lee Mackey jr in the first round in 1950; he followed that with 81-75-77 and eventually finished 25th.
  • The first player to shoot 64 at the USPGA was Bobby Nichols in the first round in 1964; he went on to win the tournament.
  • The man Nichols beat into second place in 1964, Jack Nicklaus, got there by shooting a 64 in the final round.
  • In the very next major, the 1965 Masters, Nicklaus shot another 64, in the third round this time, and went on to win the tournament.
  • Mark Hayes' 63 in the second round of the 1977 Open set a new record for that championship, beating the venerable previous record of 65 set by Henry Cotton in 1934. So what that means is that there was never a 64 shot at the Open that would have qualified for the list - needless to say there have been plenty of Open 64s subsequent to Hayes' 63, but of course they don't count.
So all of those would have been on the list, but I couldn't say whether there would have been any others. Chances are there probably were, but without trawling through the entire database of major championship results I can't be sure. It is almost certain, however, that Jack Nicklaus will be the only person to have featured on both lists. Obviously it follows that before the 1940 Masters there would have been a similar list of 65s with at least one entry on it, Cotton's round at the Open in 1934. Good luck with that one.

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