Justin Thomas’ 63 is one of the great rounds in U.S. Open history … but it’s not the best

When Justin Thomas drained his eagle putt on No. 18 at Erin Hills on Saturday, capping off a staggering 9-under, 63 that tied a hallowed U.S. Open record, it marked one of the greatest rounds in the history of America’s biggest golf tournament.

Thomas tied Johnny Miller’s famous final-round 63 at the 1973 U.S. Open and actually beat Miller in relation to par — Miller carded his 63 on a par-71 course while Thomas did it on a par-72. While putting himself in position to win the Open on Sunday, his round can’t match that day at Oakmont 44 years ago and may not crack the top five greatest 18 holes in U.S. Open history.

This is to take nothing away from Thomas’s round. Zippy. Zero. A 63 on any course, especially one set up by the USGA to be one of golf’s toughest tests, is legit. It’s more than legit. It’s historic and should be celebrated. There have been tens of thousands of rounds in the 117-year history of the tournament and Thomas is No. 1 on one list (relation to par) and No. 1B on another (score).

It’s not as impressive as some other rounds throughout history for one reason: Erin Hills is playing as the easiest, most exciting U.S. Open course in history. It wasn’t a fair fight. Consider: About 45 minutes before Thomas finished his round, Patrick Reed came in with a seven-under 65. Reed was the fourth player this week to post that number and, as of 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, there’s still two dozen players on the course in the third round and the entire fourth round left to play. Thomas went low but others had been doing it too.

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Friday night rain softened the course, which had already made history by tying for the lowest cut-line in Open history. And without the wind that can make Erin Hills a brutal slog, Thomas and others were free to fire at pins with little fear of the usual U.S. Open penalties — such as balls rolling 100 feet off glass-like greens or getting caught in snarling rough. It’s also the third round, when Thomas was five shots off the lead and teeing off about 2 1/2 hours before the leaders. There’s always pressure at an Open, just not back-nine Sunday pressure. Again, none of these things take away from Thomas, they’re mentioned for context.

Miller, on the other hand, shot his 63 on a Sunday at Oakmont, one of America’s toughest courses then and now. On that afternoon — coincidentally 44 years to the date of Thomas’ round — only three other players carded a number in the 60s and just six were in red numbers. For the week, there were 12 rounds in the 60s. There were 17 in the first round alone this week. And Miller needed every stroke, as he ended up beating third-round co-leader John Schlee by one stroke.

Performance-wise, Tiger Woods’ 2000 U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy’s 2011 Open and Martin Kaymer’s 2014 U.S. Open were more cumulatively impressive and each had days when their best round was more than two shots better than the field (as Thomas’ was). There are a handful of other rounds in history where a player went lower than Thomas did in relation to the next-best golfer. A 63 compared to a second-place 65 may be better than a 69 compared to a second-place 72. Everybody has to play the same course and scoring is all relative.

“Moving day” at the U.S. Open has never been more apt than it was on Saturday with Justin Thomas leaping the field and going down alongside Johnny Miller in the record books. It’s a round that’ll be remembered as long as they keep playing the U.S. Open. But it ain’t the greatest.