Justin Thomas lands U.S. Open record 9-under 63, but he’s hungry for more

Justin Thomas-US Open Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Justin Thomas lands U.S. Open record 9-under 63, but he’s hungry for more

PGA Tour

Justin Thomas lands U.S. Open record 9-under 63, but he’s hungry for more

ERIN, Wis. – Mike Thomas says records matter to his 24-year-old son, Justin, and Saturday at the U.S. Open, the younger Thomas landed a big one. His 9-under 63 at Erin Hills, dressed in brilliance by a titanic 300-yard 3-wood and 8-foot eagle putt at the 18th hole, established a mark for lowest score in relation to par in a championship that first was played in 1895.

“To be a part of history at a major, all the best players in the world have played this event. To be a part of history is very special,” said Thomas, whose 63 elevated him to 11-under 205, just one shot behind leader Brian Harman. The duo will play in the final group on Sunday. Brooks Koepka (68) and Tommy Fleetwood (68) also are at 11 under.

Thomas made nine birdies and that closing eagle against just a pair of bogeys. He finds himself in prime position to chase his first major victory on Sunday. Competing on a first-time U.S. Open venue that was softened by overnight rains, leaving players to attack to receptive greens not usually encountered at the national championship, and playing on a day with little wind, Thomas made the most of it.

At the 667-yard 18th hole, Thomas hit 3-wood off the tee and said he faced 293 yards to the front of the green, and 310 yards to the flagstick. Wanting to make 4 and knowing the front bunker would be a fine place from which to make one, he nearly chose to “roast” a draw 2-iron. Instead he hit a mighty cut 3-wood that carried the bunker, drifted a little right of the hole and stopped 8 feet away. The putt for 3 was perfect, and a significant piece of golf history belonged to him. Johnny Miller, who won at Oakmont in 1973 with a 63 that is broadly regarded as the finest round in major championship history, was on the grounds at Erin Hills on Saturday, 44 years to the day he shot his magic number.

“Hats off to him, it’s a great round,” Miller said via phone as he was headed to Utah for Father’s Day. “Justin Thomas is a streak player and I was a streak player. He swings aggressively.”

Those who wish to point to soft conditions to question the quality of Thomas’ 63 (even Thomas called the conditions “not very Open-like”) should digest this: Miller’s 63 was scored on a par-71 course playing 6,921 yards. Thomas, obviously armed with far more modern equipment and a golf ball that travels farther, shot 63 on a par-72 course measuring almost 900 yards longer. Saturday, Erin Hills played to 7,818 yards. Only one player on Saturday (Patrick Reed, 65) shot lower than 67, and Thomas’ 3-3 finish included a birdie at the 509-yard 17th, which has been the toughest hole on the course this week.

A U.S. Open scoring record? By late Saturday, it had yet to truly sink in for father or son. Think about that: At 24, Justin owns a huge part of history at the U.S. Open, and this is the 117th year that they’ve played one.

“I know he likes that stuff,” said Mike Thomas, a PGA golf professional for 28-plus years at Harmony Landing outside Louisville, Ky. Dad handed his son a sawed-off club at age 2. He and Justin’s mother, Jani, talked their way into the packed grandstands hovering atop the 18th green to make sure they got a good look at the putt and the record. It was worth every second.

“I know he was aware of it,” Mike Thomas said, “because he likes that stuff. It’s crazy. It’s just what he does. When something means something, it’s like, ‘Ok, here we go.’ It’s crazy he does that.”

It was pointed out to Jimmy Johnson, Justin’s caddie, that the putt he made on Saturday garnered virtually the same laid-back reaction that Thomas showed in January when he eagled the last hole of his first round to shoot 59 at the Sony Open.

“I think he just expects to make them,” Johnson said. In his 23rd year of caddying on the PGA Tour, Johnson also was on the bag for Steve Stricker’s 63 at the 2011 PGA Championship. There now have been 31 rounds of 63 shot at golf’s four majors.

There were several key points in Thomas’ round. He made birdie at the par-4 fifth standing atop a sidehill in the left fringe with his chest facing the hole. Johnson said Thomas’ 20-footer began with the player rolling the putt about 6-8 inches backwards, then watching it turn and trickle toward the hole. Thomas hoped to keep the slick first putt within 8 feet of the cup. Instead, it vanished into the hole. Birdie.

His dad noted another key point, which was Justin rebounding after a sleepy bogey at the par-4 10th hole, just as he had to rebound on Thursday when he made a mess of the par-4 eighth hole, walking off with triple. He played well and shot 73. Saturday, he played well again, but converted a few more putts, stayed mostly out of trouble and shot 10 shots lower.

“I’ve got to hear some highlights tonight,” said Rickie Fowler, who is sharing a house with Thomas this week and two shots off the lead. “That’s a pretty special round.”

Thomas has a lot on the line on Sunday. He is chasing his first major, could win for the fourth time in 16 starts in 2016-17, and would overtake World No. 1 Dustin Johnson both in the FedEx Cup standings and the race for player of the year. Thomas doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, but clearly the U.S. Open record that he collected on Saturday isn’t the biggest thing he traveled to Wisconsin to procure.

“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 little different feeling.

“But I’m just so excited to give myself a great chance to win this golf tournament.”

What a Father’s Day gift that would be.

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