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Posted June 19, 2017 in "Watts" In The Bag by Trevor Cigich
By: Ron Green Jr, Global Golf Post
For the longest time, this U.S. Open was about Erin Hills with its fescue, its cathedral on the hill and its entrée into golf’s most select society.
Then, as the Sunday wind began to soften ever so slightly and the week went looking for its champion, Brooks Koepka wrapped his Pop-eye-like arms around the biggest golf course in major championship history and squeezed the life out of the U.S. Open.
Koepka, a 27-year-old Floridian who is as stone-faced as he is strong, won the U.S. Open with brawn and with birdies.
Clinging to a one-stroke lead midway through the final nine holes and knowing Hideki Matsuyama was in the rock-faced clubhouse at 12-under par, Koepka smothered any potential drama out of the proceedings with three consecutive birdies starting at the 14th hole.
It was a devastating combination, the kind rarely seen in U.S. Opens, which tend to be won with grinding pars rather than firecracker birdie runs. Koepka’s final-round 67 gave him a 16-under-par total of 272, equaling Rory McIlroy’s 16-under championship record at Congressional in 2011.
“I really should have made that up-and-down on 18” Koepka joked, referring to a routine par-5 that kept him from setting the all-time scoring record in relation to par. “That’s awesome. I think it’s really cool.”
Though he had only one previous PGA Tour victory on his résumé, Koepka felt comfortable immediately at Erin Hills, where the wide fairways allowed him to take full advantage of his immense power. He also three-putted just once in four rounds, allowing him to play what amounted to stress-free golf in what is typically the toughest test of the year.
With the wind blowing Sunday, Koepka – who had three top-five finishes in majors before winning – liked his chances.
“The wind picked up and I felt like that played tight into my hands,” Koepka said. “To feel as confident as I did on Sunday of a major coming down the stretch was pretty neat.”
For much of the final round, Koepka and third-round leader Brian Harman shared the lead. Koepka, who started the final round one behind Harman, birdied the first two holes and turned in 33, one ahead of Harman.
The afternoon – and the championship – swung suddenly on the closing nine. Harman made two critical mistakes, back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13, the first of those set up by a tee shot into deep fescue.
At almost the same time Harman was making bogey at No. 13, Koepka birdied the par-5 14th hole to stretch his lead to two strokes. When Koepka holed an 8-foot down hill birdie putt at the par-4 15th then made a deuce at the 16th, his lead was four.
“It bites a little bit right now,’ said Harman. “But Brooks played so well today. The conditions were so tough. Next-to-the-last group and you shoot the (second) lowest round of the day, that’s tough, that’s tough..
“Ive been in lots of golf tournaments so this didm’t feel horribly different than those. I just wish I was able to put a little pressure on the course. I just didn’t drive it as well today as I wanted.
“I don’t believe in moral victories. I had an opportunity today and I didn’t get it done. At the same time, I don’t feel as though I lost the golf tournament. I think Brooks went out and won the tournament.”
After three days of relatively gentle conditions, Sunday dawned breezy and more difficult.
Perhaps no one felt the difference from Saturday to Sunday more than Justin Thomas. A day after shooting the first 9-under-par round in U.S. Open history, Thomas was the first of the principal characters to lose the plot. Thomas pulled his opening tee shot into the edge of a hazard and took himself out of the chase with three bogeys in the first five holes.
Others struggled to find any positive momentum. Tommy Fleetwood, who started the final round one behind Harman, slipped back early and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to play himself back into contention.
Matsuyama came on with a rush Sunday afternoon, leapfrogging names on the leaderboard as he put together a closing 66 that drew a figurative line in the fescue when he finished at 12-under par with Koepka, Harman and other contenders still more than an hour from finishing.
Matsuyama, trying to become the first Japanese player to win a major, shook off a slow-play warning on the back nine and closed with three birdies in the final five holes.
In so many ways, this was a different U.S. Open. The uniqueness and unfamiliarity of Erin Hills was a starting point but the problems that clouded the past two Opens added another layer to the unfolding story.
Before the championship began, USGA Director and CEO Mike Davis acknowledged the lingering shadow of the poor playing conditions at Chambers Bay and the Dustin Johnson rules issue a year ago at Oakmont.
“We’re human,” Davis said before the U.S. Open began. “We know we’ve had some issues the past two years. Moving forward, we want a nice smooth U.S. Open.”
That’s essentially what the USGA and the players got, at least until the wind kicked up Sunday morning. As a reaction to the gusty conditions, Davis and the setup committee adjusted the final-round plan on the fly. They moved the tee forward on the par-4 third hole by approximately 30 yards and adjusted on pin position to account for the wind.
For all the talk about the low scoring the first three days, Harman’s 54 hole-score of 204 was higher that the three-round lead at two of the past three U.S. Opens. But because this was the first par-72 course in 25 years, the number of players under par – including five who were double-digits under par after 54 holes – was magnified.
Erin Hills also had the distinction of becoming the first U.S. Open since the world ranking began to send home the top three players in the world after 36 holes. Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day weren’t alone; eight of the top 12 missed the cut.
On Thursday after shooting 65 to equal the lowest score in relation to par in the first round of the U.S. Open, Fowler was asked what it meant.
“It is always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf but I’d rather be remembered for something done on Sunday,” Fowler said.
This wasn’t the Sunday to remember Fowler. This one belonged to Koepka.
Driver: TaylorMade M2 2016 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana D+ 70TX
3 Wood: TaylorMade M2 Tour 2017 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana D+ 80TX
Driving Iron: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3)
Shafts: Fujikura Pro 95 Tour Spec X-Flex
Irons: Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 (4-9), S400 (PW)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (48-10 F Grind, 52-12 F Grind), Titleist Vokey SM4 TVD (60-M)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
Putter: Scotty Cameron Tour Only T10 Select Newport 2
Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Republished with permission from Global Golf Post