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Some call Johnny Miller's final round at the 1973 U.S. Open the greatest ever played. Miller hit every green in regulation, shot an eight-under-par 63 and stormed from six shots back to win. This was Oakmont, mighty Oakmont, America's toughest track and its toughest tournament. It was the first 63 in major championship history.
Forty years later 63 is still the gold standard, though the score is no longer quite so outrageous or remarkably rare. Since Miller Time, two dozen 63s have been shot in major championships, by 22 players. And within 13 years of Miller's feat, the other three majors had also yielded at least one 63.
Many have sniffed 62, including Miller, who three-putted the 8th green at Oakmont and was the victim of harsh birdie lip-outs on the last two holes. Miller Barber, who was paired with Miller, said later, "It very easily could've been 60."
Miller agrees. "It's not like I ran the table, chipped in, holed bunker shots and made 60-foot putts," he says. "It was sort of an easy 63. It can be done, is what I'm trying to say. It's just hard to get to 62 under the pressure of a major. Guys get close, maybe get to six under par through 12 holes and then sort of drop anchor."
Some believe the record will fall at Merion, next week's Open venue. At 6,996 yards, Merion is the first Open course shorter than 7,000 yards since Shinnecock Hills in 2004.
Here's why the record hasn't fallen, why it might fall at Merion—and why it probably won't.
A lot has changed in four decades: big-headed metal drivers, high-launch three-woods that carry 280 yards, high-tech composite shafts, square grooves and 64° sand wedges; balls that fly longer and straighter than ever imagined; triplex mowers; nonmetal spikes. In a drastic evolutionary change, golfers even discovered weight training regimens that don't involve arm curls attached to 12-ounce cans.
"I don't expect it to last long," Nick Price said in '86 after his masterly round at Augusta National. "So many guys hit it so much farther than I do. I didn't even reach any of the par-5 holes in two."
Reminded recently of his prediction, Price could only laugh. "Well, Augusta National adjusted its course for the modern equipment and most of the other majors have done the same," he says.