SOUTHAMPTON – (Staff and Wire Service Report) – There was a time during the second round on Friday at the 118th U.S. Open Championship that Brooks Koepka was at 7-over-par and appeared hopelessly out of the race to repeat as champion at this tournament. But no one believes in himself more that Koepka, and there’s little — not a huge deficit, or a left wrist injury, or even the toughest conditions imaginable in which to play golf on arguably the biggest stage — that can affect that confidence.
Koepka fired a 2-under-par 68 in the final round on Sunday to finish at 1-over-par 281 to capture the title by a stroke over Englishman Tommy Fleetwood at the demanding Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southhampton, on the East End of Long Island.
Koepka, who won last year at Erin Hills Golf Club in Wisconsin, became the first golfer to take back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange accomplished the feat in 1988-89. Koepka is the seventh player to win America’s national championship of golf in consecutive years.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. This is incredible,” Koepka said. “You know, I don’t think I could have dreamed of this — going back-to-back. It’s truly special and I’m so honored.”
Fleetwood carded a 63, becoming the sixth player to record that score at the U.S. Open and just the second to do it in the final round. He teed off almost 2 1/2 hours before — and six strokes behind — third-round leaders Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau on Sunday and soared up the leaderboard with four consecutive birdies on holes 12, 13, 14 and 15.
Fleetwood missed a nine-foot putt for birdie and a record 62 at the closing hole. His round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.
“I honestly never really thought I was out of it,” Fleetwood said after his round. “I just needed a good start. You never know what’s going to happen. Obviously, we knew they would have made it a bit softer today, and looking at the pins, you knew they were going to be more accessible.
“I knew I was kind of in it teeing off, but you still have to get off to that good start. I was 4 under through seven, and it was game on.”
Johnson, who was tied for the lead after the first round and four strokes clear of the field after 36 holes, finished alone in third two shots behind Koepka at 3 over after an even-par 70 in the final round.
Reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed finished fourth at 4 over after a 68 in the final round, while Finau (72) double-bogeyed the final hole to finish in fifth, another stroke back at 5 over.
In a statement released Sunday morning, the USGA said that it watered Shinnecock Hills’ greens an “appropriate level” and slowed down the putting surfaces.
“Over the four days it almost seemed like there were four different golf courses we played, which is fine.” Reed said. “I don’t mind. And, you know, it’s supposed to be tough out there.
“…You knew that they were going to water the heck out of the greens, that they’re going to be soft. And when that happens, you’re taking out a lot of the bite of the golf course.”
Koepka trailed Johnson by six strokes after the first round and by five after the second round, even after he torched the course for a 66 in the afternoon gloaming. He shot a 72 in nearly unplayable conditions on Saturday when Johnson stumbled to a 77 to climb back into the mix and was steady and often spectacular over the final 18 holes.
“I just had to keep going and give myself a chance,” Koepka said about making up his huge Friday deficit. “I made a couple of birdies, and I was able to make up a lot of ground. I felt like I was hitting it well and putting it well and just needed to keep grinding.”
Koepka racked up three birdies in his first five holes on Sunday to grab the championship by the throat, but gave back a shot with a bogey on the sixth.
“I got off to a great start and got some rhythm going and carried that over to the rest of the round,” Koepka said.