By Nicola Kenton

  • Brooks Koepka successfully battled to defend his US Open title from last year
  • First male golfer to claim back-to-back victories at the US Open since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989
  • Tommy Fleetwood shot a record-equalling final round of 63 to finish in second place
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – Brooks Koepka won back-to-back US Open titles on the difficult slopes of Shinnecock Hills while England’s Tommy Fleetwood finished in second.

 

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Koepka battles back from injury to claim second US Open

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Last year, Brooks Koepka won the US Open with a score of sixteen-under-par but since then has struggled with a wrist injury. It was a slow start to the weekend for the reigning champion who carded a five-over-par opening round but remained in contention with the course not allowing very low scores. On the second day the American shot a 66, the joint lowest score of the round, to secure his place for the rest of the weekend.

The third round saw complaints from many players about the pin positions with only three early starters able to complete a round below par. While others were unable to get close to par, Koepka shot a solid 72 and the field bunched up ahead of the final round on Sunday. It was clear early on that the last 18 holes were going to play easier than the previous 18 and Koepka produced a round with five birdies and three bogeys, including one on the 18th, to claim his second US Open by one shot.

The 28-year-old is the first to win back-to-back to titles at the US Open since compatriot Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989. The difference in the manner of both of his victories shows that Koepka has many of the skills to win more majors. He is able to battle in difficult conditions to grind out a score when others are faltering, but he also knows how to shoot a low score when the course allows for that.

 

Final day flourish for Fleetwood

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So close for the man from Southport. Tommy Fleetwood produced his best ever finish at a major championship sitting one shot back from champion Brooks Koepka. The Englishman’s scorecard was actually very similar to that of the eventual winner with both players producing the same scores in the first two rounds. However, it was Saturday’s round that ended up being the difference.

With the course playing very difficult, thanks to a combination of pin positions and the wind, Fleetwood was unable to play his best game and carded an eight-over-par round of 78 to drop back down the field. Nevertheless, the Englishman came out fighting on Sunday and showed what was possible as he shot 63 which included eight birdies and one bogey to equal the joint-lowest score ever recorded at the US Open. On the 18th, Fleetwood had a chance to post the lowest ever score but slightly misread the putt and had to settle for a par.

Speaking after the tournament, Fleetwood told BBC Sport, “A 62 was more on my mind than where I was in the tournament coming down the last few holes. 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.”

 

Englishmen show good form

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When the tournament began on Thursday, Justin Rose was mentioned as one of the favourites having remained consistent in form since the Masters and being a previous winner of the US Open. It was a steady weekend for the world number three who stayed in contention until the final day when his round of 73 dropped him down to tie alongside Webb Simpson in tenth place.

Another Englishman who performed well this weekend was Ian Poulter who ended up in a tie for 25th having scored twelve-over-par. However, it was the third round which put a dent in Poulter’s hopes with one double bogey, seven bogeys and three birdies carded. Englishmen Tyrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick also deserve a mention, as they finished tied sixth and 12th respectively; while Paul Casey finished the tournament on tied 16th.

With the Ryder Cup later this year, the charge is on to fill the eight automatic qualifying spots for Team Europe. Those players that miss out on the spots will be hoping to have good form throughout the summer to try and secure one of the wildcard picks.

 

Controversy for Mickelson

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It wasn’t a good weekend for Phil Mickelson, he was hoping to complete the Grand Slam but could only manage a tie for 48th place. However that was not the main talking point of the weekend. That came in the third round, on Mickelson’s 48th birthday, when he hit a moving ball. Admittedly, conditions were difficult on Saturday but still what happened on the 13th green surprised and angered many.

Mickelson hit his putt on the green but when he saw that is was heading down the slope and potentially off the green, the American jogged over to the ball and hit it back towards the hole. The 48-year-old carded an eight on the hole and was then given a two-stroke penalty for ‘making a stroke at a moving ball’. Nevertheless, there were calls for his disqualification due to a different ruling which states ‘an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play’, where a disqualification can be issued.

The American spoke to BBC Sport after his round, “I know the rules and the ball was going to go off in a bad spot. I did not feel like continuing going back and forth. I would still be out there potentially. I’ve wanted to do it many times before and finally did.” While John Bodenhamer of the USGA added, “Phil didn’t purposely deflect or stop the ball, which is talked about in the reference under Rule 14-5. He played a moving ball.”

 

Shinnecock Hills shows no mercy

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The last time the US Open was staged at Shinnecock Hills there was controversy as the greens were being watered in between groups on the final day. They were running fast and dried out too much because of a combination of the USGA not watering them and overnight winds meant that the greens were brown and the course became near impossible. Switching to 2018 and the measures were not as drastic, however the course was at its trickiest on Saturday when the wind picked up.

Only three players shot below par and the leaders arguably had the worst of the conditions. It was a day that saw Tony Finau and Daniel Berger card rounds of 66 which then meant they ended up playing in the final group on Sunday. Players this year were not necessarily complaining about the greens though, it was more to do with the pin positions – especially those on the 13th and 15th. There is a difference between a difficult golf course and an unplayable one. Shinnecock Hills once again teetered on the edge.

Former player Ewen Murray told Sky Sports, “If you’re going to have greens that repel the ball, then you need to find the flat part if you are going to have the course that hard and fast. It was near-impossible on the greens and quite simply, the USGA has failed in their job to do that. The USGA has got to look at its strategy, as this has gone on now for too long. I like the fact that it’s usually a really difficult test because it’s so different from the norm on the PGA Tour, but that was too far.”

The next major is the 2018 Open Championship, which will take place at Carnoustie on the weekend of July 19th – 22nd.

 

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