2011 US Open Golf: The 25 Greatest Single Round Performances Ever
When coming up with a list like this, a few thoughts come to mind.
One, it's very generational. While this list includes US Open performances going as far back as 1913, I will always be biased to what I remember watching. Anyone will.
So because there have been so many great rounds, there really are no right or wrong answers. Compiling this list, I looked at great rounds that I excluded, or ranked low, and was amazed.
There really are no special provisions for this list. It's not necessarily the 25 lowest scores in US Open history. On that note, some of the rounds included weren't even the top round that that golfer carded on that given week.
Some rounds are included for more than just score. Maybe a golfer held off or caught legendary golfers, maybe a golfer was only a shot or two under par while the rest of the field was struggling to break 75.
Obviously, score is a factor. Some of these rounds came before the final round. Heck, some of these rounds weren't even carded by the eventual winner. It's an undeniable factor, just not the only one.
And on the note of having no wrong or right answers. I don't apologize for what rounds I included here or the order that I put them in.
By the same token, someone else could compile a list that looks entirely different and have nothing to apologize either. It's just what happens when we have more than 100 years of history to draw from.
A special thank you does go out to all of The Bleacher Report's golf writers who offered their suggestions.
25. Rives McBee: 64 in the Second Round, 1966 at the Olympic Club
Rives McBee is one of the only non-winners to make the list here. He finished T13 in 1966’s US Open, but his second round was stellar.
Actually, it was better than stellar; it was good enough for a share of US Open record.
Not much more can be said. McBee is one of the only non-champions listed here and is the only person listed that never won a major. His T13 was his best career major performance. His next best round that week was a 74, but this round was fantastic.
24. Vijay Singh: 63 in the Second Round, 2003 at Olympia Fields
In terms of scoring, this was one of the easier US Opens in history. Vijay Singh didn’t win it. Actually, at a T20 finish, he is the lowest finisher on the list.
But anytime someone equals a major scoring record, they belong on a list like this. Singh’s second-round 63 was aided by a back-nine 29, which also equaled a record.
Honorable mention goes to the week’s eventual champion, Jim Furyk, who carded two 67’s and a 66 on his way to a three-shot win.
Also worth mentioning was Tom Watson, who was then 53 years old. He shot an opening-round 65 and was the co-leader. His caddy, Bruce Edwards, had recently been diagnosed with incurable ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Nobody knew it at the time, but Edwards would pass away the following April.
Watson has certainly had a brilliant career. He had an even greater tournament at the British Open six years later. Watson didn’t contend this week, but the magic that he and Edwards provided was unforgettable.
23. Angel Cabrera: 69 in the Final Round, 2007 at Oakmont
Oakmont played especially difficult all week, even for Oakmont’s standards.
This was not the same sparkling round that Johnny Miller shot 34 years before. It didn’t need to be, Cabrera won the same prize.
Anthony Kim went out early on Sunday and 67, but he was not a factor in the tournament. The next best round of the day belonged to Cabrera, who shot a one-under 69 to win his first major.
That’s not where the story ends. He was a few groups ahead of both Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods and had to watch them finish. Either could have tied, or even beaten Cabrera, neither did.
22. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf: 63's in the First Round, 1980 at Baltusrol
Considering these two rounds were fired on the same day, it’s appropriate that they share a slot with each other.
Weiskopf would go on and fade in the tournament, while Nicklaus claimed his fourth and final National Championship. But on this day, they were equals.
A slight nod may go to Nicklaus, as he missed a short putt on the last hole that would have given him a major record.
By the end of the week, the scoreboard read “Jack is back.” That was known to many after day one, although he did have to share the spotlight with Weiskopf for a day.
21. Retief Goosen: 71 in the Final Round, 2004 at Shinnecock Hills
From this point on, it’s nothing but winners.
At one-over par, this round may not look great on paper, especially considering the clubs they were using in 2004. But golf tournaments aren’t played on paper, and that’s why this round is included.
The crowds were not against him, but they were raucous for Phil Mickelson. In typical Goosen fashion, he showed no emotion and matched Mickelson’s 71, winning the tournament by two shots.
The crowds alone aren’t what lands Goosen on this list. No, he needed only 24 putts to complete this round, that’s why he’s here.
I’ve never actually tried putting on a hockey rink, but I can’t imagine it would be much less difficult than the greens that these golfers faced.
Because the greens were dried out from the winds, the USGA decided to water them between groups. That stopped mid-round, and it should have hurt Goosen more than anyone, as he was in the final pairing.
Nobody told him that. He claimed his second US Open and made it clear that he was one of the era’s best players.
20. Billy Casper-1966/Lee Janzen-1998: 68's in the Final Round at Olympic Club
Perhaps these rounds are both more notable for who didn’t win than who did, but they both belong. These 68’s share a stage because while they happened more than 30 years apart, they happened on the same course and were eerily similar.
In 1966, Casper trailed Palmer by seven shots in the final round. In 1998, Janzen trailed Payne Stewart by the same margin.
The difference is that Janzen won the tournament outright, while Casper’s joy had to wait a day. Palmer led by two shots after nine, but Casper came back and shot a 69 to Palmer’s 73 to win the playoff.
In both cases, it was the second career US Open for the eventual winner.
19. Billy Burke: 73, 76, 77 and 71, Playoff in 1931
Isn’t this a list about the greatest single round performances? That looks like an entire tournament. Also, those may be good rounds, but are any of them really that spectacular?
Well, this was all a part of a playoff. No, it’s not one round, but I am qualifying playoffs as one round, no matter how many holes they took to complete.
This was originally supposed to be a 36-hole playoff. In those days, when the players finished the 36 holes tied, they came back for another 36 the next day.
A few 18-hole playoffs had to go to another 18 holes, but this was the only time it happened for a 36-hole playoff. Obviously, this was the longest US Open in history.
So, while the rounds weren’t spectacular, Billy Burke and George Von Elm played two US Opens. The winner of that absolutely belongs here.
Today, you hear golfers say that when they are done with most of their US Open rounds, they are too tired to do anything afterwards. Imagine doing that twice.
It wasn’t one round in the traditional sense of 18 holes. But playoffs are blanketed as one round, so this qualifies.
18. Payne Stewart: 70 in the Final Round, 1999 at Pinehurst
Looking to redeem himself from the previous year’s disaster, Payne Stewart handed Phil Mickelson his first US Open runner-up finish.
He beat Mickelson by one stroke and Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh by two. At the time, Mickelson had no majors and Singh and Woods each had only one. Still, they were three of the best in the world.
Stewart sandwiched a birdie on the par-three 17th hole with a 25-foot par putt on 16, and a 15 foot-par putt on 18 that put the tournament on ice.
In doing so, he won the last major of his life. Of course, we didn’t know that then. What we did know was the he redeemed his previous year’s disappointment, making nearly the same putt that he had missed the year before.
17. Gene Sarazen: 68 in the Final Round, 1922 at Skioke
Sarazen was only 20 years old when he burst onto the scene in 1922. He won two majors that year. The first was at the US Open.
To do that, he shot a final-round 68, which bettered anyone’s final round output by three shots.
John Black and Bobby Jones, who had yet to win any majors, each finished a shot behind Sarazen. Black shot a 72, while Jones shot a 73.
16. Jack Nicklaus: 67 in the Final Round, 1967 at Baltusrol
While it’s hosted more US Opens than any course other than Oakmont, Baltusrol is not what you would call the most difficult US Open course. Still, a final-round 65 in is not easy to do, even for the best golfer in the history of the game.
Nicklaus was one of only four golfers to break 70 during the final-round. One of the others was Arnold Palmer, who shot a 69 on his way to a runner-up finish. That four-shot difference provided The Golden Bear the cushion that he would need.
Also, while three other people shot in the 60’s, Nicklaus was better than any of them. His full legacy hadn’t been established yet, but he was well on his way and by 1967, was clearly the world’s best golfer.
15. Tiger Woods: 69 in the Second Round, 2000 at Pebble Beach
This is an odd round to include, considering it was only Woods’ third best round on the week where he obliterated the US Open scoring record and set a major record for biggest margin of victory.
Still, the 69 that he shot in his second round was the most significant of the week.
His opening-round 65 was tremendous, but it only earned him a one-stroke lead. His final-round 67 was great, but an 81 would have won him the tournament.
In the second round, no other golfer broke 70.
Tiger’s opening-round lead made it likely that he would win, but the 69 that he followed it with gave him a six-shot lead, essentially putting the tournament away.
14. Ben Hogan: 67 in the First Round,1953 at Oakmont
While he was obviously able to play golf, Ben Hogan’s near fatal car accident in 1949 left him with physical limitations for the rest of his life.
But in 1953, he won every major that he entered and had a season that rivals any that the game has ever seen.
He opened the US Open at Oakmont with a 67, which was then a course record. With the exception of Sam Snead’s second round 69 in the second round, no other golfer broke 70 for the rest of the week.
Hogan would go on and win by six shots, going wire-to-wire on the strength of his opening round.
13. David Graham: 67 in the Final Round, 1981 at Merion
David Graham’s final-round provided people with an ultimate “easier said than done” approach to winning a US Open, hit fairways.
After missing the fairway on the first hole, Graham was perfect for the rest of the day, making up for an average putting performance.
He trailed 54-hole leader George Burns by three shots at the beginning of the day. When the tournament was over, he led Burns and Bill Rogers by three shots.
This was his second major championship, as he also won the PGA Championship in 1979.
Graham was also the first Australian to win the US Open. None of his countrymen equaled him until Geoff Ogilvy in 2006.
12. Larry Nelson: 67 in the Final Round, 1983 at Oakmont
Before talking too much about Nelson’s final round, it does need to be pointed out that his third round was actually two shots better.
The final round took place over two days, as rain hit when Nelson was on the 14th hole. When play resumed on Monday, Nelson drained a 60-foot putt birdie on the 16th hole.
When defending champion Tom Watson missed a five-foot putt on the 17th hole, Nelson had his winning margin.
Other golfers did shoot in the 60’s during their final round, but none were better than Nelson, whose final two rounds actually set a US Open record.
11. Gene Sarazen: 66 in the Final Round, 1932 at Fresh Meadow
At the time, Sarazen’s 66 was a US Open record. Naturally, since it came in the final round of the tournament, it also set a final round scoring record.
This was a stellar performance by the Squire. His final two rounds set a record for the back half of a US Open that stood until Nelson’s performance in 1983.
His final round 66 was the best final round in US Open history until 1960.
One other thing to note is Sarazen had previously served as the head pro at the host course of Fresh Meadow Country Club. Mix a golfer of Sarazen’s caliber with course knowledge, and perhaps a great performance was inevitable.
10. Fuzzy Zoeller: 67 in an 18-Hole Playoff, 1984 at Winged Foot
Fuzzy Zoeller and Greg Norman finished the 1984 US Open five shots clear of anyone else.
Norman sunk a 45-foot par putt on the last hole of regulation, which was answered by a more conventional par from Zoeller.
It’s interesting that after Norman made that putt, Zoeller jokingly waved a white towel in surrender. On the 18th green the next day, it was Norman that waived the white towel.
Zoeller shot a three-under 67 in the playoff. It was actually his second best round of the week, as he shot a 66 in the second-round. But the fact that the 67 came in a playoff against a golfer of Norman’s caliber makes up for the one-shot difference.
Norman was never close, as he trailed by five shots after nine holes and ended losing by eight.
This was one of the first spectacular failures that would follow Norman throughout his brilliant career.
The great playoff performance clinched Fuzzy’s second and final major championship, as well as his only National Championship.
9. Lee Trevino: 68 in an 18-Hole Playoff, 1971 at Merion
The story of Lee Trevino throwing a rubber snake at Jack Nicklaus before the 18-hole playoff began is not entirely accurate. Regardless of that, it did show Trevino as one of the game’s loosest players and biggest characters.
Still, when they teed off, he was all business.
Trevino took advantage of Nicklaus’ early missteps to open up a two-shot lead after three holes. Nicklaus would cut the lead throughout the day, but Trevino never surrendered the outright lead after the third hole.
It wasn’t that Nicklaus played bad, either. He shot a 71, which is only one-over par at Merion. One-over par has won plenty 18-hole playoffs convincingly. It just wasn’t good enough on this day as Trevino won his second US Open. He would go on to win the British Open that year, and three more majors in his career.
8. Bobby Jones: 141 in a 36-Hole Playoff. 1929 at Winged Foot
By 1929, Bobby Jones was the best golfer in the world and perhaps the game had ever seen. Still, in the final holes of the US Open, he struggled.
Jones blew a big lead and had to a make a 12-foot par putt to earn a spot in a 36-hole playoff with Al Espinosa.
He made the putt and the next day, he handed Espinosa a beating that was similar to the one that Secretariat handed all of the horses in 1973’s Belmont Stakes.
Jones beat Espinosa by 23 shots. Granted, Jones wasn’t the only person responsible for such a blowout. Espinosa shot an 84 and followed it up with an 80 to finish the playoff at a 164.
But with 2011 equipment, the best golfer in the world today would have a hard time playing 36 holes at Winged Foot at 72, 69.
7. Jack Fleck: 69 in an 18-Hole Playoff, 1955 at Olympic Club
Ben Hogan didn’t win any majors after the 1953 British Open. Still, in 1955, he was the biggest name in golf. Jack Fleck was not exactly in second place.
The only cut he had made at a stroke-play major (The PGA Championship was match-play until 1958) came at the 1953 US Open, where he tied for 52nd place. For the record, his best performance in the PGA Championship was elimination in the round of 64.
On this day, the resumes didn’t matter, as Fleck pulled on of the biggest upsets in golf, or any sport’s history.
Fleck led by one on the final tee, but Hogan slipped, hit a bad drive, and made double-bogey. Fleck made a par for the three-shot victory.
A case could be made that Fleck’s final round 67 belongs here, but he wasn’t eye-to-eye with Hogan then. Truthfully, Fleck was hardly seen as a threat when she shot that 67.
Fleck won twice more on tour, which was actually one more than Hogan would win. Like Hogan, Fleck was done with majors, although he did win one on the Champions Tour (then the Senior Tour).
6. Francis Ouimet: 72 in an 18-Hole Playoff, 1913 at Brookline
While we’re on the subject of monumental upsets.
Anyone who has seen The Greatest Game Ever Played is familiar with this story.
Playing with a 10-year old caddy, Francis Ouimet, who himself was caddy at Brookline went toe-to-toe with the two best golfers in the world and beat them.
If a person gets all of their information on this tournament from that movie, they know most of the story. What they do not know is that Ouimet beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray handily.
At 72, this is the worst 18-hole score on the list. But given the equipment they had in 1913, the challenge of Brookline, and the fact that he was a caddy against Vardon and Ray, the two best golfers in the world, makes this easily worthy of such a high spot.
Still not convinced? This is also the tournament that really made golf popular in America. Subsequent years would give us the likes of Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, and Walter Hagen.
Hagen was actually already a pro. In fact, he was tied for fourth in the 1913 US Open, but his first major didn’t come until the following year’s National Championship.
5. Jack Nicklaus: 71 in an 18-Hole Playoff, 1962 at Oakmont
Golf doesn’t have many truly hostile crowds. The Ryder Cup has become a bit more hostile in recent years, but even that doesn’t compare to what is seen in other sports.
Nicklaus played the opening 36 holes with Arnold Palmer, and received taunts from the crowd. Palmer was always immensely popular, especially in Pittsburgh.
The King did not like the taunts directed at his playing partner, but they didn’t stop. He beat Nicklaus by three shots over those first two days, but they were all square after 72 holes.
The subsequent 18-hole playoff was a blowout. It was clear to all in attendance that no matter how much they heckled Jack, he was the better golfer.
To his credit, Nicklaus was not at all bothered by the crowds. If he was, he didn’t let it show. He beat Palmer by three shots to claim the first of his record 18 majors.
4. Tiger Woods: 71 in an 18-Hole Playoff, 2008 at Torrey Pines
Honorable mention goes to Rocco Mediate, who actually matched Woods stroke-for-stroke. Woods led by three after 10 holes, but Mediate took a lead after 15. He held that lead until 18, where Woods tied him.
Woods gets the nod for two reasons. One is that he won the subsequent sudden-death playoff. Two is that even though Woods is a much bigger name than Mediate, he had the additional challenge of playing all week on one good leg.
Woods hasn’t won another major since and really hasn’t been the same golfer since this tournament.
It’s still doubtful that this will be Tiger’s last career major. But if it is, he finished in spectacular fashion.
3. Arnold Palmer: 65 in the Final Round, 1960 at Cherry Hills
There are people of a certain generation that call this the best US Open of all time. When you consider that Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus were all in contention, it’s hard to argue.
This was Palmer’s day, as he won his only career US Open. Maybe he needed to play from behind, because he would certainly lose plenty of them with final round leads.
As for the round itself, Palmer started the day seven shots back. He drove the opening green, which was a par-four, made a birdie, and was off and running.
Palmer was known for his late tournament charges, and this one is probably better than any he ever had. By the time it was over, he won by two shots
It’s interesting that when his final putt dropped, he reacted as though he won. In hindsight, that was fine, but Palmer had to wait a long time to see if someone would catch him, or even beat him.
2. Ken Venturi: 70 in the Final Round, 1964 at Congressional
The story of this is actually that that he played two rounds in one day. The first of those two rounds was a 66.
This was the last time that the US Open finished with a 36-hole final day. Not only was Ken Venturi dehydrated, but he was given salt tablets and iced tea to help his dehydration, which are both bad for dehydration.
Not only was he advised to quit, he didn’t believe he could finish. Still he plugged through the 36-hole grind.
Also, he didn’t start that day with a big lead. He actually started the final 18 holes two shots behind Tommy Jacobs. Venturi finished that round four shots better than Jacobs.
Honorable mention goes to Jacobs, who built the 36-hole lead with a second round 64, which was then a record performance.
Another honorable mention goes to Hubert Green, who played the last four holes of the 1977 US Open after learning of a threat on his life. It doesn’t make the list because didn’t hear of the threat until after the 14th hole.
Still, he overcame a shaky drive to par the 15th hole, which is where the threat said his murder would occur. A birdie on 16 gave him a two-shot lead, which was his eventual margin of victory.
1. Johnny Miller: 63 in the Final Round, 1973 at Oakmont
This round had anything that could be deemed as a qualifying factor.
Oakmont is arguably the toughest course in the country, so it's not like shooting a 63 at some early season desert course (which is still impressive).
Miller passed a list of great golfers that included Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer.
He needed a 63. A 64 would have only put him in a playoff and while still a great round, a 65 would have gotten him nothing more than a pat on the back.
To top it all off, this round could have been better, which is frightening.
Lastly, Miller's 63 tied him for the best round in not only US Open history, but major history.
Miller is a polarizing announcer and while he had a good career as a golfer, it didn't live up to the promise that he had.
But on this day in 1973, he shot what is hands down the best round in any major, US Open or otherwise.