Brooks Koepka stands firm to make it a US Open double

The American made it back-to-back titles after seeing off the field at Shinnecok Hills

Brooks Koepka of the United States and caddie Richard Elliott celebrate on the 18th green after the final round of the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Brooks Koepka of the United States and caddie Richard Elliott celebrate on the 18th green after the final round of the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

 

Brooks Koepka didn’t want to give the silverware back, so he didn’t. The 28-year-old American benefited from a softer final round setup, on a course comprehensively watered through the night to prevent it going over the edge, to achieve the rarity of securing back-to-back US Open championships.

What a difference a day can make; for, compared to the battle for survival and the madcap antics of Saturday’s third round when many players felt the course went over the edge, the final round was one which tempted a more aggressive game plan from players.

And Tommy Fleetwood didn’t need to be asked twice, running off four successive birdies on the homeward run to leapfrog up the leaderboard with a stunning 63 and to set the clubhouse target on 282, two-over.

All but one failed in their bid to catch him. That man was Koepka, who was forced to sit out the Masters in April after a four-month stint on the sidelines as he recuperated from wrist surgery. Koepka - who became the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to retain the title - produced a final round for 68 for a total of 281, one-over-par.

Koepka and Dustin Johnson look at a pitch mark on the 15th green. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Koepka and Dustin Johnson look at a pitch mark on the 15th green. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The American had to do it the hard way on the run home, where every shot mattered. Indeed, his playing of the 11th and 12th - which he covered in one over - was as important as any of his birdies. On the 11th, his teeshot overshot the green into fescue and his recovery bumped into the hill and then ran through the green into a bunker. But he got up and down, holing a 10-footer, for bogey. It could have been much worse.

Then, on the 12th, he made another superb up and down - this time for a par - before securing another nervous par on the 14th. It took a search party to find his ball in the fescues after a poor tee-shot, from where he punched out onto the fairway and then from 67 yards got up and down for par.

On the 18th, Koepka - with a two shot lead - walked to his ball on the fairway with expectation. But the coronation walk up the fairway proved far from straightforward. His pulled approach hit the grandstand but, assessing his options with caddie Ricky Elliott, pitched to 15 feet and then two-putted for a bogey that gave him a one stroke win over Fleetwood. Dustin Johnson birdied the last for a 70 to finish in third.

Fleetwood’s charge was all that traditional setups at this championship deterred. But the mind games - going from a setup that was too severe, to one imminently playable for the final round after the course was doused and doused again with water - gave them a chance to chase, with flags set in friendlier positions on the greens.

And chase Fleetwood did, firing a 63 - one of only six players in US Open history - to finish on two-over 282 to set a clubhouse target that added further stress to those who’d woken up with greater anticipation of securing a victory.

Last season’s European Tour order of merit winner - who contended at Erin Hills a year ago, when Koepka won a breakthrough Major title - made a remarkable charge on the back nine, claiming four birdies in a row from the 12th, a run that saw a 17-footer, a five-footer, a 20-footer and a 30-footer in turn roll in as his hot putter could do no wrong.

But then it stopped and birdie chances on the 16th and 17th for Fleetwood failed to drop and, on the 18th, he had a nine-footer for a place in history with the chance of a 62 that would have set a new championship low round. Of that putt on the finishing hole, in front of a packed grandstand who rose to their feet to acclaim his bid for glory, Fleetwood said: “It actually died a little bit. It was a little bit slower than I thought. I knew what the score was for, but if I could go back and give it a little bit more pace, give it a little bit more line.”

Tommy Fleetwood acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Tommy Fleetwood acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Fleetwood joined Justin Thomas (2017), Vijay Singh (2003), Tom Weiskopf (1980), Jack Nicklaus (1980) and Johnny Miller (1973) in recording rounds of 63 in the US Open. Of them all, it was a comparison with Miller’s that Fleetwood seemed likely to emulate as he made a charge that left him disappointed.

Nine-over starting out, Fleetwood’s attitude was not to concede defeat in any way. “You just have to keep going in these tournaments because you just never know, you never know what the course is going to do or what the conditions are going to be like.”

Collated final round scores & totals in the 118th US Open, Shinnecock Hills GC, Southampton, New York, United States of America (USA unless stated, par 70)

281 Brooks Koepka 75 66 72 68

282 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 75 66 78 63

283 Dustin Johnson 69 67 77 70

284 Patrick Reed 73 72 71 68

285 Tony Finau 75 72 66 72

286 Daniel Berger 76 71 66 73, Xander Schauffele 72 74 72 68, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 75 70 72 69, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 71 70 74 71

287 Justin Rose (Eng) 71 70 73 73, Webb Simpson 76 71 71 69

288 Zach Johnson 73 73 72 70, Russell Knox (Sco) 73 71 75 69, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 73 70 75 70

289 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 76 72 68 73

290 Haotong Li (Chn) 79 68 74 69, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 75 70 79 66, Paul Casey (Eng) 73 73 73 71, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 74 72 75 69

291 Steve Stricker 73 75 73 70, Charley Hoffman 71 69 77 74, Brian Gay 73 74 70 74, Dylan Meyer 77 69 71 74, Rickie Fowler 73 69 84 65

292 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 75 72 72 73, Alex Noren (Swe) 72 72 77 71, Jason Dufner 70 74 79 69, Matthieu Pavon (Fra) 71 77 74 70, Branden Grace (Rsa) 76 69 72 75, Charles Howell III 71 72 77 72, Aaron Baddeley (Aus) 74 72 77 69, Justin Thomas 74 70 74 74, Russell Henley 69 73 77 73, Bryson DeChambeau 76 69 73 74, Ian Poulter (Eng) 69 72 76 75

293 Pat Perez 73 71 77 72, Bill Haas 76 72 74 71, Gary Woodland 79 69 70 75, Brian Harman 74 70 78 71, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 73 71 76 73

294 Sam Burns 71 76 75 72, Ryan Fox (Nzl) 73 72 74 75, Patrick Rodgers 72 72 83 67, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven) 76 72 73 73

295 Marc Leishman (Aus) 74 69 78 74, Scott Piercy 69 71 79 76, Patrick Cantlay 75 71 76 73

296 Ross Fisher (Eng) 76 71 79 70, (a) Luis Gagne (Crc) 73 74 75 74, Tim Wilkinson (Nzl) 76 72 78 70, Phil Mickelson 77 69 81 69, Peter Uihlein 75 72 75 74, Jim Furyk 73 71 72 80, Brandt Snedeker 72 76 73 75, Matt Parziale (a) 74 73 74 75

297 Dean Burmester (Rsa) 75 73 75 74, Chris Naegel 73 73 75 76, Jimmy Walker 75 70 79 73, Mickey DeMorat 72 72 80 73, Tyler Duncan 77 67 81 72

298 Calum Hill (Sco) 75 69 81 73

299 Andrew Johnston (Eng) 73 73 82 71

300 Brendan Steele 72 73 75 80

301 Cameron Wilson 75 73 76 77

302 Kevin Chappell 75 72 78 77

303 (a) Will Grimmer 73 72 78 80

306 Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 71 76 81 78

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