This Week In Golf: Brooks Koepka Defends U.S. Open Title At Shinnecock Hills
American Brooks Koepka won his second straight U.S. Open on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York, becoming the first repeat champion of the United States Golf Association's annual championship in almost 30 years. He did it with controlled and steady play over the weekend, finishing at 1-over par for the tournament to defeat England's Tommy Fleetwood by one stroke and fellow American Dustin Johnson by two strokes.
Fleetwood tied a U.S. Open record with a 63 on Sunday, posting two-over par in the clubhouse hours before Koepka and Johnson, playing in the second-to-last group, finished their round. Fleetwood missed an eight-foot putt on the 72nd hole, which might have forced an eventual playoff. But emerging from a four-way tie for the lead at the start of the round, Koepka really never wavered in his pursuit of history, shooting 2-under par on Sunday to win.
Koepka was the only one of the four third-round leaders to shoot under par in the fourth round. Johnson could only manage even-par for the day, while Tony Finau shot 2-over and Daniel Berger posted 3-over for the round.
The last golfer to post back-to-back victories in the U.S. Open was Curtis Strange, who won 1988 and 1989 and was on hand to witness Koepka's achievement. Koepka is the seventh golfer overall to win consecutive U.S. Open tournaments, but he is just the third player to do it since World War II. The legendary Ben Hogan also won the U.S. Open twice in a row back in 1950 and 1951.
Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champion, was the big favorite coming in to the tournament, after he won last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic by six strokes and regained the No. 1 world ranking. However, his putter failed him over the weekend. This marks the third U.S. Open that Johnson has come up short in the end, joining disappointing finishes in 2010 and 2015.
The old saying about the U.S. Open is that you do not win it; instead, it wins you. Perhaps this was never more accurate than this year at Shinnecock Hills, with its unforgiving rough and greens.
The tough Shinnecock Hills course resulted in just four players breaking par in Thursday's opening round, and all four were tied for the lead at 1-under. Johnson, Russell Henley, and Scott Piercy shot 69, as did England's Ian Poulter. It was a rough day for a lot of golfers, including former U.S. Open winners Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods, who both shot 78, and 2011 champ Rory McIlroy, who carded an 80. The average round on Thursday took just over 76 strokes.
Johnson pulled away from the field on the rain and wind-beaten course on Friday morning, posting a stellar 67 that put him in the lead at 4-under par. Poulter kept pace for awhile, but he played the final two holes at 4-over, dropping him down to a fourth place tie with defending champion Koepka at 1-over par.
The afternoon on Friday was sunny, but that didn't change much in terms of the leaderboard. Despite the scoring average improving by almost three strokes on Friday, Johnson was the only player under par at the end of the day. Tied for second, four strokes back, Piercy and fellow American Charley Hoffman offered the closest thing to a challenge to Johnson's lead at that point.
Woods, playing with Johnson, missed the cut after shooting 72 on Friday. That left him at 10-over par, while the cut line was set at 8-over. Spieth (9-over) and McIlroy (10-over) both missed the cut as well.
Saturday really was "moving day," as both Berger and Finau jumped a whopping 44 spots in the standings by shooting identical scores of 66 from their morning start times. Only three golfers broke par on Saturday, including Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who posted a 68 to move up a stunning 51 spots into a tie for seventh place.
Meanwhile, Johnson posted a 77 and Koepka a 72, leaving Berger and Finau tied for the lead with the duo at 3-over par overall. Justin Rose was one shot back, and Henrik Stenson stood at 5-over, two shots behind the four leaders, setting the stage for Sunday's historic finish, which left Koepka holding the silver trophy for the second year in a row.
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Next On The Tee: Travelers Championship
The PGA Tour stays in the Northeast this week, as Cromwell, Connecticut hosts the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Spieth is the defending champion, as many of the players who struggled at Shinnecock Hills will welcome a return to a golf course they can more easily conquer. The last time a winner of this event, formerly known as the Greater Hartford Open, did not post double digits under par for the tournament was back in 1993, when Nick Price won it by shooting 9-under. Last year, Spieth won the Travelers in a playoff over Berger after posting a 12-under par score.
Both players are back this year in a packed field, featuring five former winners from this decade: Russell Knox (2016), Bubba Watson (2010, 2015), Kevin Streelman (2014), Ken Duke (2013), and Marc Leishman (2012). In addition, Koepka will try to keep his game rolling in fine fashio, as he is scheduled to play. He last played the Travelers in 2016, finishing in a tie for ninth, four strokes behind Knox. McIlroy also is planning to play, as he looks to get his game back on track quickly.
Famed course architect Pete Dye redesigned an existing course that had been opened in 1928 in order to create this TPC course in the early 1980s. In 2016, Jim Furyk shot a 58 at TPC River Highlands in the final round of the Travelers to set the all-time record for PGA Tour play. The previous course record of 60 had been set in 2011 by then-UCLA golfer Patrick Cantlay, who is now a professional and also in the field this week.
The TPC River Highlands course plays 6,844 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Daniel Berger, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth
Players to Watch: Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he's quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.
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