Koepka Defies the Odds to Successfully Defend US Open
BROOKS KOEPKA became the first man since Curtis Strange in 1989 to successfully defend the US Open on a day of high drama and extraordinary scoring at Shinnecock Hills. The 28-year-old American, who missed the early part of the season with a crippling wrist injury, survived the horrors of Saturday to post a brilliant third round of 73 when everybody around him was falling to pieces and then emerged from a four-way tie for the lead at the start of the day to write himself into the history books.
"This is incredible. I don't think I could have dreamed of going back-to-back. It's truly special and I am honoured," he said. "I always felt like I had a chance. I was never out of it. I just needed to keep grinding. I knew the conditions would ease up a bit and I took advantage of it."
On a day when some sort of sanity finally prevailed at Shinnecock Hills, Tommy Fleetwood, 27, produced the round of golf of his life to reduce this fearsome layout to 63 blows. He had stumbled to a 78 in the third round, his chances of winning the year’s second major seemingly gone.
"The #USOpen just takes so much discipline. You have got to be a great putter and just kind of let things roll off your back. I enjoy the test. I enjoy being pushed to the limit. Sometimes you feel like you are about to break mentally, but that's what I enjoy." pic.twitter.com/JmIimxJW39— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2018
But the 2017 Race to Dubai winner had other ideas. He birdied the second, third, sixth and seventh holes and although he dropped a shot at the ninth, he had reached the turn in 32. And there was more to come. The man from Southport then birdied the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th holes and parred his way home after missing a short birdie putt on the 18th green. He had covered the back nine in 31 - nine shots better than he had managed on Saturday. It all added up to a 63 and saw him finish the tournament on 282, two over par. At that point he was one behind Koepka and all that he could do was wait to find out whether it had been good enough.
"A 62 was more on my mind than where I was in the tournament coming down the last few holes," said the 27-year-old from Southport. "It's special to shoot a 63 at the US Open. I thought 62 after six or seven holes. I knew I had to shoot something good. Last night we said shoot the greatest score in a US Open and you'll have a chance. It's alright saying that but it never happens.
"Just getting that close is the ultimate thing that I will take from this. It's nice as a golfer to have that hard work start paying off. Hopefully this is just one stage in me winning majors.”
Koepka had only played eight holes and was himself two under for the day. Fleetwood was tied at this time with Masters champion Patrick Reed and world No 1 Dustin Johnson. Reed had also set off like a train with birdies at the first, second, third, fifth and seventh before his first dropped shot of the day - like Fleetwood, also at the ninth.
This was the day we had been waiting all week to see, a day when the world’s best golfers finally got the better of this brute of a golf course - and of the sadists at the USGA who had made them suffer so horribly all week.
Fleetwood’s four rounds were 75, 68, 78 and 63 - a proper rollercoaster ride. And how close he came to winning his first major. If anybody ever doubted his credentials as a world-class player, there can be no doubts now.
But, in the end, he simply had too much ground to make up on Koepka. The defending champion took control of the tournament with birdies at the second, third and fifth holes to move to level par. He dropped a shot at the tricky sixth but reached the turn in 33. He then birdied the 10th, dropped another stroke at the 11th before reducing the 621-yard par five 16th to four blows for another birdie. It took him to level par for the tournament. He dropped a shot at the 18th, closing the event with a final round of 68 for a one-over-par winning total of 281 - one ahead of Fleetwood.
Rickie Fowler managed a 65, but his challenge had also been derailed on Saturday after a horrific round of 84. For once, there appeared to be more sub-par scores on the final day of the US Open than the horror stories we have become so used to witnessing over the years at this tournament. The course was actually, whisper it, playable, the pin positions in places that were accessible. Hallelujah!
The big surprise was that Justin Rose, many people’s favourite, was unable to take advantage. He began the day one off the lead but while others were making birdies for fun he dropped three shots at the fifth and sixth and although he birdied the sixth, he was two over for the round at the turn and six over for the tournament, five behind defending champion Koepka. Barring a miraculous burst on the back nine, his race was run.
Unfortunately, Reed ran out of steam. Bidding to win the second major of the year, he mixed three bogeys with one birdie on the back nine and had to settle for a round of 68 and a four-over par total of 284.
Fleetwood finished second on his own, four ahead of Tony Finau whose 66 on Saturday had rocketed him through the field. The big-hitting American saw his chances disappear when he dropped three shots in the first four holes and although he battled back he had given himself too much to do. He dropped two shots at the 18th to fall back to five over par, which was good enough for fifth place. Dustin Johnson, who closed with a 70, was third. Reed was fourth, followed by Xander Schauffele, Henrik Stenson, Daniel Berger and Tyrrell Hatton in joint sixth place on six over par. Rose ended the week in a tie for 10th place after a second successive 73.
For the record, 15 players broke par on the final day.
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