June 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Open has traditionally had a reputation as the toughest test in golf, but benign conditions have turned this week’s championship into a birdie-fest, much to the lament of former champion Johnny Miller.
Justin Thomas on Saturday became the fifth player to post a 63 in a U.S. Open, joining Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Vijay Singh but Thomas is the only one to do it on a par-72 course.
Miller, though impressed by Thomas, was not exactly in awe.
”Taking nothing away from nine under par, nine under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure,“ Miller told GolfChannel.com. ”But it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up.
”It looks like a PGA Tour event course setup. I’m not sure where the days of the 24-to-29-yard-wide fairways that we played every time went. It’s interesting to see where the USGA has gone with the U.S. Open, being a little more friendly than in years’ past.
”The course wasn’t designed to be soft, and if it was going to be soft, it should have been 26-or-27-yard-wide fairways. That’s what made it easy. The guys weren’t afraid to bomb it. It was never that way in the U.S. Open. It was always about really tight fairways and having to be a great driver. This went totally against the tradition of the U.S. Open.”
In defence of the U.S. Golf Association, the wide-open course was designed and set up to be played in strong winds and with firm and fast fairways and greens. But the weather this week has not co-operated with ample rain and only light breezes leaving the layout at the mercy of the world’s best players.
Miller shot his eight-under 63 in the final round en route to victory in the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont, and he will be more impressed if Thomas, or anyone else in contention, can put together a 63 on Sunday.
“For one, the greatness of my round is the 63 in the last round of the U.S. Open to win by one,” said Miller, now an analyst for the American TV network NBC.
“Everything else is way secondary. If somebody does it tomorrow to win the U.S. Open by one, that’s the specialness of my round. And secondly, Erin Hills isn’t exactly Oakmont.”
Another 63 is perhaps unlikely, because the breeze is finally predicted to pick up on Sunday, perhaps offering a stern test, though the course will probably remain fairly soft.
Brian Harman, at 12-under 204, takes a one-shot over fellow Americans Thomas and Brooks Koepka and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, with Rickie Fowler two back.
Harman and Thomas will tee off in the final pairing at 2:54 p.m. Central (1954 GMT).
There will be an 18-hole playoff on Monday if the leaders are tied after 72 holes. (Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)