Date: June 18, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

Record US Open scoring sinks Leish

Justin Thomas wore bright pink pants and sent a thunderclap around Erin Hills today with a US Open record nine-under-par 63, leapfrogging into contention and leaving everyone, including Australia’s Marc Leishman, on notice.

But almost as soon as he signed his card, Thomas was overtaken by the understated Brian Harman, who’ll take a one-shot lead into tomorrow’s final round after his own dazzling 63 on a day of incredible scoring.

The US Open is set for a fascinating final day at a new venue that has yielded much lower scores than this tournament would usually allow – today being the lowest daily average score to par in the tournament’s 117 years.

Leishman was just a shot from the lead at seven-under par as he stood on the 12th tee, having picked up three shots. But a trip into the fescue grass after a wayward tee shot cost the Australian a double-bogey and he ended tied-17th at four-under par, probably out of the hunt with a round to play.

A few moment after Leishman’s troubles,  American Thomas, already riding a brilliant round as he stood on the 18th fairway, hit the shot of the tournament – a 273m three-wood second shot at the par-five that landed on the front of the green, almost hit the flag and stopped less than 3m behind the cup.

 “I told Jimmy (caddie Jimmy Johnson) walking up there once I found out we had a putt, I said let's try to become a part of history here. He said, `Yeah, let's do it’.

“But I had no idea in terms of nine-under being the best in the US Open.”

Thomas, the world No.13, rolled in the eagle putt for a nine-under par 63, the lowest score to par in US Open history to reach 11 under overall.

He joined Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Vijay Singh in shooting US Open 63s, but supplanted Miller, who shot an eight-under par 63 in 1973 at Oakmont, as the best score in relation to par.

Thomas’ round also equals the low number for any round of a men’s major championship. So far 31 rounds of 63 have been recorded in a major by 29 different players (including Greg Norman at Augusta National), yet no one has gone below that.

The USGA famously sets up its US Open courses for a winner scoring around even par, but the players have sneaked under the guard of the organisers this year. Five players already have carded seven under or better this week, another US Open record, with Patrick Reed also managing it today. But curmudgeonly Miller, whose 63 was in the final round in 1973, said Erin Hills “isn’t a US Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up”.

Thomas made nine birdies, the eagle at 18 and two bogeys in his round. “That means I’m part of history,’’ he said.  “It means I have a lot better chance to win the tournament than I did when the day started.

“I mean, it's all pretty self-explanatory, I guess, in terms of what it means. But just for me, I felt like I've been playing pretty well all week, and didn't have quite the numbers to show for it. Obviously, today I definitely had something to show for it.’’

The 24-year-old is seeking his first major, although he has won four times on the US PGA Tour and is regarded as one of the hottest young players in the world. He had missed a relatively-simple eagle putt at the par-four 15th today from just 2m after a spectacular 3-wood from the tee.

 “I just get a little shaky and jittery on putts, and that’s what happened on 15,’’ he said. “I was so mad at myself for that.’’

Amazingly by US Open standards, five players are at 10 under or better – and none of them have won a major previously, meaning the current streak of six majors in a row to newcomers will likely extend tomorrow.

Left-handed Harman is an unlikely leader, but looked rock solid throughout his second round of 67 for the week to leave him a stroke clear at 12 under.

After laying off his drive up the long 17th, it appeared as though Harman would make his third bogey of the week from the hay on the left.

But a spectacular approach to near “gimme” range maintained his remarkable run of not having made a back-nine bogey this week.

Englishman Tommy Fleetwood is another unlikely contender, but until he was forced into three approach shots by the sloping 18th green complex, had also looked immune to the pressure.

His closing bogey gave him a 68 and left him tied for second with Thomas and powerhouse Brooks Koepka, among those to fire a four-under round.

Yet another on that number today was Rickie Fowler, at 10 under the highest-ranked of those in contention and who will play with Korean sensation Si Woo Kim (68 for -9) in what shapes a hot third-last grouping.

Leishman’s even-par 72 looked to be building to something so much better when he drained a long birdie on the eighth, his third of a promising round.

But a couple of chances slipped narrowly by before his troubles at the 12th and he never regained momentum, eventually dropping back to where he started after visiting the sand off the par-three 16th tee.

He’s not out of it mathematically, but there are too many good players between him and the lead for him to realistically contend.