SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | The scene was set for record breaking long before Branden Grace handed in the first 62 in the long history of major championship golf.
Where, on Friday morning, the early players did not exactly inspire the later starters with their wind-tossed pars, bogeys and worse, the situation was altogether different Saturday morning. The leaderboard was bubbling over with birdies, with South Africa’s Shaun Norris leading the way as he handed in a 5-under-par 65 in the company of a marker.
Then came Tommy Fleetwood, who tacked a 66 to earlier scores of 76 and 69. Fleetwood was happy for himself and still happier for his fans. Half of Southport had leapt from their beds to watch the local hero and their man responded with three birdies in his first half before enjoying a birdie-eagle high at the 14th and 15th. Scott Hend drew crowds as he nailed five successive birdies to the mast from the 13th in his 65 before Jason Day distributed his birdies rather more widely in what was the third of the 65s.
It was just when 65s were becoming a tad boring that Grace started looking like a man who could up the ante. When the South African sped to the turn in 29, people began their calculations. They became a bit impatient when he made four pars in a row at the start of the second half but, when he birdied the 14th with two par-5s still to come, things were looking good.
He missed a 7-footer which would have given him a birdie at the long 15th but had everyone back on tenterhooks when he holed from all of 33 feet for his 3 at the par-4 16th. At that point, the sweat on the player’s brow suggested he knew what was going on, though that would turn out not to be the case. It was only after had had arrived at 8-under par after two putting from off the green at the long 17th and salvaged his par at the last that he was put in the picture.
“Congratulations, you’ve made history,” said Zac Rasego, his caddie.
“I think Zac knew what I was doing and good on him for not telling me,” said Grace, who is on the first page of the leaderboard at 4 under through 54 holes.
The reason Grace himself had not known anything beyond the fact that he had a good score in the making was that he was “so in the zone, so focussed.”
Only last week, he and Rasego had sat down and discussed how their communication was not as good as it had been. It was a timely talk, for Rasego knew a thing or two about serious pressure in an Open in that he was the bagman who had worked with Louis Oosthuizen when Oosthuizen won the 2010 Open at St Andrews.
Since Grace knew that Dustin Johnson was 5 under after 10 holes, he was not sure that his record tally would last the day. “I’ll enjoy it for now,” he said lightly.
As it was, Johnson could only – though “only” is hardly the right word – muster a 64.