It’s not been done since 1989 but Brooks Koepka joined Curtis Strange and Ben Hogan as the only players to win the US Open back to back since World War II, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
The USGA promised to slow things down after Saturday’s melee and that’s exactly what they did as they turned a monster into a beast capable of being tamed by the right foe.
Rickie Fowler showed the contrast in the two rounds as he turned in 19 shots fewer and in the process set a record with a 65 on Sunday. That run showed what can be done by those teeing off behind the final few pairings.
Enter Tommy Fleetwood.
The Englishman, who fired a 66 on Friday, grabbed the course by the scruff of the neck and strangled birdie after birdie out of it until he was on the first page of the leaderboard. The reigning Race to Dubai leader then missed two makeable putts on 16th and 17th before a magnificent iron into 18th, one of the hardest holes on the course. That approach left Fleetwood with less than nine feet to tie Branden Grace for the lowest round in Major history. History evaded him though as his putt strayed left as his long wait began to see if his score would be good enough.
The final pairing of Daniel Berger and Tony Finau ― who played their way into contention before the drama of Saturday afternoon ― flattered to deceive with the Ryder Cup pairing of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson uncharacteristically faltering when the arena seemed so suitable to their games.
That left reigning champion Koepka, world number Dustin Johnson and a charging Patrick Reed to decide whether Fleetwood’s championship tally of +2 was good enough.
For a large part of the afternoon it seemed like it would be as Reed’s electric start ― he birdied the first three holes and then two more by the time he reached the 7th ― was replaced by some wayward iron play as he made just one birdie with four bogeys on his way in to finish at +4.
Johnson hit the ball well all day but battled an ice-cold putter which saw him miss regulation putts for par on 7th and 11th to give Koepka, in just his fifth start of 2018 after recovering from a wrist injury, some breathing room. A birdie at 15th lifted his spirits but a poor wedge into the 16th left him with too much to do over the final holes with his best friend in control of his game and more importantly his putter. A three-putt on 17th saw him slide away to mull over a missed opportunity for a second Major.
Sunday was by no means a repeat of last year’s bruising of Erin Hills as the burly American made very few mistakes and putted like a genius whenever he did. There was no putt more impressive than his putt which saw him escape the 11th with a bogey after going long left over the short par-three.
That lifted him as he left the green a little more confident and self assured than before. That confidence paid off as he had a good swing after good swing before another dialed in approach at the 16th to kick-in distance for what was the championship-winning birdie.
He displayed the composure of a champion by safely finding the back of 17th and two-putting to head to the 72nd tee with a two-shot lead over Fleetwood.
Another perfectly composed swing saw him find the short grass, enough for his last swipe at Shinnecock Hills, but not quite a knock-out but enough as he becomes the first player since 1989 to win the US Open on the bounce and do something that Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer all never managed to achieve.
Koepka, the gladiator, has entered the big time.
Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images