SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — History will look at Brooks Koepka and note that he won the same major championship two years in a row. The only similarity in victories between last year and this year is that the name of the courses had the word “Hills” in it. Because, in truth, the U.S. Open he won at Erin Hills a year ago and the one he locked up Sunday at Shinnecock Hills could have not have been more different.
At lush Erin Hills, he took home the trophy after shooting 16 under par over four days in Wisconsin. This time, on a fast and hard Shinnecock Hills course that drew the ire of players this past week, he posted 1 over for the tournament.
How did we end up here, with Koepka becoming the first player to win consecutive U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange did it in 1988 and 1989? We go through all the key moments of Sunday’s final round.
The hole that won the U.S. Open
Koepka made five birdies, but it might have been the par at 14 that lifted him to his second consecutive U.S. Open. Fitting, really, that it was a par at a U.S. Open in which pars were so tough to get. The player with a bad left wrist, playing in the event that most puts that wrist in danger — at a U.S. Open with high, thick, punishing rough — needed to navigate that rough to get home with a pivotal par at 14.
He pounded his tee shot 340 yards, but it found that unforgiving rough up the right side. He advanced it as far as he could, hacking it out 98 yards. With that, he had to get up and down from 62 yards to keep his one-shot lead. His wedge settled 8 feet from the hole. He walked in the putt and kept a lead he wouldn’t give up.
The 63 that wasn’t good enough
Tommy Fleetwood was surprised when he shot 66 in Friday’s second round. Imagine how he felt after tying the U.S. Open record with a 63 on Sunday. He finished at 3:49 p.m. local time, then waited … and waited … and waited.
“Looking at the pins, you knew they were going to be more accessible,” Fleetwood said immediately after his round. “I knew I was kind of in it teeing off, but you still have to get off to that good start. [When I was] 4 under through seven, and it was game on.”
Still, he would have liked to have back the putt that just slid by on the final hole.
“I wanted 62,” he said.
Final-Round 63s At A Major That Didn’t Win
|2018||Tommy Fleetwood||U.S. Open|
|2017||Haotong Li||Open Championship|
|1995||Brad Faxon||PGA Championship|
|1993||Payne Stewart||Open Championship|
|1991||Jodie Mudd||Open Championship
The Grand Slam conversation that wasn’t
Patrick Reed doesn’t lack confidence. He wanted to make a statement, and he did that early. Reed birdied his first three holes, five of his first eight, and went out in 4-under 31. The murmurs started: Maybe Reed could follow his Masters win with a triumph at the U.S. Open. Only seven times a player has opened a calendar year by the winning the season’s first two majors. The last time it happened was when Jordan Spieth won at Augusta and then picked up the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in 2015.
Reed, though, couldn’t keep up the momentum after bogeys at 9, 11 and 12. A missed short par putt at 18 officially ended his hope of the major double.
The quest for a major comeback
In 1975, Lou Graham won the U.S. Open after trailing by 11 shots at the 36-hole mark. Tony Finau and Daniel Berger faced the same scenario. It appeared early they wouldn’t be joining Graham. Finau strung together three consecutive bogeys at Nos. 2, 3 and 4. Berger had back-to-back bogeys at the second and third. They each tried to rally — Finau made four birdies in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round, while Berger opened his back nine with a birdie at 10 — but they could not make the long road back from 11 down.
The USGA changed the place
The tone of the day started very early, well before Andrew “Beef” Johnston hit the day’s first shot at 8:21 a.m. local time.
“In preparation for [Sunday’s] forecasted dry and windy conditions and to maintain a challenging yet fair U.S. Open test, we applied appropriate levels of water to all putting greens last night and this morning for turf health and firmness,” the USGA said in a statement. “Similar to the preparation we took for Round 1, green speeds will be, on average, 10-12 inches slower than Rounds 2 and 3. We also adjusted some hole locations in a manner similar to what we did in Round 1, reviewing our initial selections and comparing them against our weather forecast and other agronomic data.”
Our translation: We messed up Saturday. We are going to make up for it. The place is going to play easier. Did it ever. Not only did Fleetwood shoot 63, but the whole field had a better day. The course played nearly a shot easier on average than it did on any other day this past week.
Bryson DeChambeau wins Memorial with birdie on second extra hole
DUBLIN, Ohio — For the fourth straight year, Bryson DeChambeau leaves Ohio feeling like a winner.
This time he had a trophy to show for it, and a handshake with Jack Nicklaus to remember.
DeChambeau finally made it easy on himself the third time playing the 18th hole at the Muirfield Village on Sunday, rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to beat Byeong Hun An and win the Memorial.
“I can’t believe I did it,” said DeChambeau, a winner for the second time on the PGA Tour.
He had played the Memorial only once before, though the 24-year-old Californian has been a regular in central Ohio. He has made it through the 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier each of the last three years, all in the Columbus area.
This was far more rewarding.
DeChambeau watched his putt disappear and raised both arms, pumping them seven times as he yelled above the cheers of fans. Many of them lingered at the 18th green in expectation that this might be the day Tiger Woods returned to winning.
Woods was never a serious factor, especially after missing a three-foot par putt on the 10th hole and hitting another tee shot into someone’s backyard on the 13th hole. One of his best weeks hitting the ball ended with an even-par 72 and a six-way tie for 23rd.
The finish was no less entertaining.
DeChambeau went from a two-shot deficit at the turn to a one-shot lead after No. 12, and he kept the lead the rest of the way until a three-putt bogey on the 18th hole from about 55 feet for a 1-under 71. That tied with An, who had closed with a 69 in the group ahead and was the first to reach 15-under 273.
Kyle Stanley joined them in the playoff. He hit into the water on the par-3 12th to fall five shots behind with six holes to play, only to run off four straight birdies, capping the big run with a 30-foot putt on the 17th to tie DeChambeau.
Just his luck, Stanley hit a tree on the right elbow of the dogleg at No. 18, and it shot the ball across the fairway and nearly into a creek, except the ankle-deep rough was thick enough to slow it. Even so, he could only advance the ball 100 yards and made bogey for a 70.
In the playoff, his tee shot was enough to the right that the ball was well above his feet in thick grass. Stanley choked up and took a swing, but the ball squirted out about 30 yards to the right, leading to another bogey, and he was quickly eliminated.
“A couple bad breaks on 18,” Stanley said. “I mean, in the playoff, if I knock that ball 2-3 feet right of where it was, I would have had a shot. But after Hole 12 my chances were looking pretty slim, so to come back and make some birdies coming in … it’s a bit of a sour finish, but proud of the way I hung in there.”
An took some of the pressure off DeChambeau on the second playoff hole, also on No. 18, when he yanked his approach into the gallery. He played a marvelous flop shot out of deep rough to a couple of feet for a certain par, only for DeChambeau to hit his approach 12 feet behind the hole and make the birdie.
“I finally got it right the third time,” DeChambeau said. “It took me a little bit.”
Patrick Cantlay also had a chance Sunday, leading by two shots going to the back nine. But he didn’t make a birdie over his last 10 holes, and he fell back when he went bunker-to-bunker on the 17th and made bogey to fall two strokes behind. Cantlay narrowly missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole, shot 71 and finished fourth. Peter Uihlein (66) was alone in fifth.
Joaquin Niemann, the 19-year-old from Chile, birdied the 18th hole to tie for sixth. That was enough for him to earn special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, meaning he can get unlimited sponsor exemptions.
Justin Thomas shot 68 and tied for eighth in his debut at No. 1 in the world. He will keep that ranking going into the U.S. Open.
Woods started five shots behind. He pulled to within three shots with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 fifth hole, but he didn’t make another birdie until he had fallen seven shots behind and only had eight holes in front of him.
Woods was second to last in the key putting statistic among the 73 players who went all four rounds.
“If I just putt normally, I probably would be right there with those guys and up there in the last couple of groups,” Woods said. “If I just keep building on this, with how I’m hitting it right now, I’m in good shape for two weeks from now.”
The next stop for Woods is the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
DeChambeau will be there, too, his confidence higher than ever. He first played the Memorial in 2016 and was coming off four straight missed cuts. He tied for 38th that week, a small victory, but realized his game wasn’t good enough.
Now, he has PGA Tour titles in consecutive seasons. And his victory moved him to No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings.
DUBLIN, Ohio — Joaquin Niemann could figure out where Tiger Woods was on the golf course from the mass of people following him a few groups ahead, and he had a pretty good idea what he was doing from all the noise, at least before Woods put a putter in his hands.
“There was so many people,” Niemann said.
The few who stuck behind for the 19-year-old Chilean saw another good show at the Memorial Tournament.
In his fifth start as a pro, Niemann finished with two birdies over his last three holes for a 4-under 68 and a share of the lead with Kyle Stanley, who had a 66. He finished with an 8-foot birdie on the 18th hole.
Woods shot a 67 and was six shots behind with nearly two dozen players in front of him.
Stanley, who won the Quicken Loans National last summer, was atop the leaderboard for much of the day and was starting to pull away until a poor tee shot at No. 6 led to bogey. He finished with a par save from just off the ninth green and reached 11-under 133.
On the other side of the course was Niemann, the No. 1 amateur in the world and Latin American Amateur champion who wanted to play the Masters before turning pro. He looks his age when his braces shine every time he smiles. He plays beyond his years.
Already with a pair of top-10s on the PGA Tour, Niemann now finds himself in the last group going into the weekend at the tournament Jack Nicklaus founded, and he doesn’t appear to be the least bit nervous about being there.
“It feels really nice to be on top of the leaderboard,” he said. “It does feel really nice for tomorrow.”
Byeong Hun An had a 67 and was two shots behind.
Among those three off the lead were Hideki Matsuyama (71), who earned his first PGA Tour title at the Memorial three years ago, and Jason Day, a former world No. 1 who is a member at Muirfield Village and has never come close to winning. Perhaps this is the year. Day had never been within five shots of the lead going into the weekend at the Memorial, and he’s not sure why.
“I think I just [stunk] on it for a long time,” Day said. “I don’t think there was anything, any reason why. I just didn’t really play well. But I’m hopeful I can change that because I feel different this year.
“I want to play well in front of my family,” he said. “Family and friends come out and I want them to be yelling in the crowd when I’m in contention.”
Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose each had a 66 and were in the group at 7-under 137, while Dustin Johnson was among those at 138, even though he has played the par 5s in just 1 under for the week.
Johnson and Rose each have a chance to get to No. 1 in the world. Justin Thomas, in his debut at No. 1, overcame a pair of early bogeys for a 69 and was at 3 under.
Rory McIlroy made bogeys on both par 5s on the front nine as he tried to finish strong. He had to settle for a 70 and made the cut on the number. That was still better than Jordan Spieth, who finished bogey-bogey for a 72 and missed the cut by three shots.
Since his closing 64 at the Masters, Spieth has finished at least 12 shots behind the winner in his three tournaments and missed the cut in his final event before heading to Shinnecock Hills for the U.S. Open.