News & ToursAugust 9, 2013

Guys are going low at Oak Hill, and that's not a bad thing

By Ron Sirak

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Jason Dufner shot 63 at Oak Hill CC in the PGA Championship just hours after a 64 by Webb Simpson and a day removed from 65s by Adam Scott and Jim Furyk. Justin Rose had a 29 on the front Friday. Is this a major disaster? Nope. It's golf, and it's fun to watch. When players complained before the 1999 British Open that an over par score was going to win, John Philp, the greenkeeper who turned Carnoustie into Carnasty that week, said these wise words: "Par is a made-up number. If it takes 290 to win, shoot 290." That's exactly the number required for Justin Leonard and eventual winner Paul Lawrie to get into the three-way playoff with Jean Van de Velde after his collapse. Philp was right. Par is an arbitrary assignment of a number to a golf hole or a golf course. The point is simply to shoot the lowest score of anyone competing. Par has as much to do with conditions as it does with design. And if there is nothing wrong with an over-par score winning a major championship, there should also be nothing wrong with a very under-par score winning. Birdies need not be extinct in the majors.

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Related: Oak Hill CC: East Course For a time, it appeared as if the all-time major championship single-round scoring record would be broken. There have been a slew of 63s in the majors, but no one has gone lower. First Simpson, then Dufner, flirted with doing just that. "I was thinking about it once I birdied 6," Simpson said about the possibility of shooting the first 62 ever in a men's major. "I was thinking about the all-time major record, and I was 99 percent sure it was 63." That 64 did tie the Oak Hill course record first set by Ben Hogan in 1942. "It's pretty special," Simpson said. "I had no idea what the course's record was. But any time you can put your name near Ben Hogan, it's a great thing."

Related: Simpson hits (another) shank, but still ties course record By the time Simpson had finished a late lunch, Dufner had broken the course record and tied the lowest round ever in a major. "It's great to be part of history," Dufner said in his low-key way. Scott, the Masters champ who has become a fixture on leader boards at the majors since picking up Tiger Woods caddie Steve Williams as his looper two years ago, once again has himself in contention going into the weekend. "It was difficult this morning," said Scott, who was seven-under-par 133 after 36 holes. "The course was playing really long with the heavy atmosphere and the rain. But when it eased up, it became really scoreable out there." You want a great example of the arbitrary relationship par has to great golf? Just take a look at the three majors that have already been played this year. Scott won the Masters at Augusta National after a playoff at 279 with Angel Cabrera. Rose took the U.S. Open with a 281 on Merion. And Phil Mickelson made off with the claret after 281 strokes on Muirfield in the British Open. Scott's 279 was nine-under par. Rose's 281 was one-over par. And Mickelson's 281 was three-under par. The relationship to par is not what's important; only the total number of strokes you used in relationship to the rest of the field matters. Rose is probably correct; Oak Hill will likely show its teeth by Sunday. But if it doesn't, if the birdie barrage continues, there is no shame in that. One of the beauties of golf is that it is the most organic of games, constantly changing. The same course can play completely differently on consecutive days. That's just awesome. Oak Hill may have been a par-68 course on Thursday and Friday after all that rain, and it may be a par-73 by Sunday. The point is that par doesn't matter. Are they making a lot of birdies? Yup. Is it easy to do that? Nope. It's easier, but it ain't easy. It still takes great shots. I don't want to hear anyone whining if the lead gets to double-digit under par at some point this weekend at the PGA Championship. It's just a number, and a made-up one at that. Just enjoy great players playing great golf. These are artists creating masterpieces drawn by their hearts, not novices painting by the numbers.

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