Know It All: What is the Best Score Ever Posted by a Professional Golfer?

Sports fans can easily and quickly recall prominent scoring records for most professional sports. But even the most devout sports fan will draw a blank when it comes to PGA scoring records. Wonder no more!

Everybody has that moment when they realize they don’t know about something that they should probably know about. Whether it’s history, language, science, or cultural phenomena, you’ve felt the stinging personal embarrassment of a moment wherein you realize there’s some common knowledge that isn’t so common. Don’t feel bad; nobody knows everything. Nobody, that is, except me and my sidekick, The Internet!

Somewhere in the world, a confused soul begs the question…

What is the Best Score Ever Posted by a Professional Golfer?

Sports fans can easily and quickly recall prominent scoring records for most professional sports. Most touchdowns thrown in an NFL season? 50, by Tom Brady. Most points scored in an NBA game? 100, by Wilt Chamberlain. Most home runs in a MLB season? 61, by Roger Maris (come on – it is still the true record).

Even the most devout sports fan, however, will usually draw a blank when it comes to PGA scoring records. It’s understandable ignorance, though – these sorts of things aren’t ever really stressed as much by the media as the records in other major sports (for whatever reason). But if you’ve watched (or played) golf, you’ve surely wondered about the gold standards amongst the world’s elite. Golf isn’t particularly cut-and-dry, though, so if you want to win some money in a bar bet on a Sunday afternoon, I suggest you memorize all the information contained below.

Lowest score in a single round: 59

This has happened three times, all on par 72 courses (meaning the single-round score was 13 under par, which is the under-par record for a single round). Al Geiberger did it in 1977 at the Memphis Classic, Chip Beck did it at the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, and David Duval managed it at the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Incredibly footnote: Duval shot a 28 on the back nine of his historic round. WHAT.

Lowest score, 72-hole total: 254

In 2003, Tommy Armour III shot 64-62-63-65 at the Valero Texas Open – a total of 254 (26 under par). Bizarrely, Armour III has only won one other tournament in his career – thirteen years earlier (!), at the 1990 Phoenix Open.

Most strokes under par, 72-hole total: 31-under

Ernie Els shot 31-under (including a round of 64) at the 2003 Mercedes Championship. He posted a total score of 261 on the par-73 course for the entire tournament. In related news, he also won a million dollars for a weekend’s work.

Oddly also happening in 2003 (what in the world was going on in golf, that year?): Tim Herron shot 29-under at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and Stuart Appleby shot 28-under at the Las Vegas Invitational.

Lowest score in a single round, in a major tournament: 63

There are four tournaments in professional golf known as “Majors”. The Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the Players Championship. They’re really no different than any other golf tournament, in terms of the basics. Still, it seems relevant to distinguish the records for the events with more history and prestige.

Anyway, many players have posted a single round score of 63 (which, depending on the course, will either be a score of 7-under or 9-under par) in one of these major tournaments. Too many to list, in fact.

There are some interesting facts within this list, though. A score of 63 has only happened twice at the Masters: Nick Price in 1986 and Greg Norman in 1996. Norman is one of two players who have posted a 63 in more than one major (he also shot a 63 at the 1986 British Open) – the other two-time record-setter is Vijay Singh, who shot 63 at the 2003 U.S. Open and the 1993 PGA Championship. Naturally, Tiger Woods has also done it (at the 2007 PGA Championship).

Lowest score, 72-hole total, in a major tournament: 265

David Toms exclusively owns this record, having posted scores of 66, 65, 65, and 69 in the 2001 PGA Championship en route to a final score of 15-under par. The second-lowest 72-hole score in a major tournament? Phil Mickelson’s 266… also from the 2001 PGA Championship. “Historic” wasn’t historic enough for Phil, on that day.

Bizarre fact: for six years, the record was 267, a score which both Steve Elkington and Colin Montgomerie shot in the 1995 PGA Championship. They went to a playoff and Montgomerie lost (sorry, Monty – your record-setting performance wasn’t good enough).

In case you were wondering, the records for lowest total scores in each of the other three majors:

  • Masters – 270 (Tiger Woods, 1997)
  • British Open – 267 (Greg Norman, 1993)
  • U.S. Open – 272 (Tiger Woods, 2000; Lee Janzen, 1993; Jack Nicklaus, 1980)

Most strokes under par, 72-hole total, in a major tournament: 19-under

This record belongs to Tiger Woods, who posted a 269 at the 2000 British Open (he won by 8 strokes). Unsurprisingly, Tiger also holds at least a share of the “strokes under par” record for all the other majors, as well.

He shot 18-under at the 1997 Masters, 18-under at the 2000 and 2006 PGA Championships (Bob May shares that record), and 12-under at the 2000 U.S. Open (he won that tournament by a mind-altering 15 strokes). Needless to say, Tiger Woods is good at golf.

Now you know.

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.