Defending champ Koepka starts fast at US Open

Brooks Koepka of the United States

Southampton (United States) (AFP) – Defending champion Brooks Koepka birdied the second hole at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday to edge into the lead early in the final round of the US Open Golf Championship.

Koepka started the day tied for the lead with 2016 champion Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau on three-over par.

All four safely parred the first before Koepka put his nose in front.

Masters champion Patrick Reed was making a run, joining the group sharing second on three-over with birdies at the first three holes.

The US Golf Association had pledged to take the edge off Shinnecock Hills after scores soared on the course dried by sun and wind on Saturday, officials admitting that some pin positions were too severe for the conditions.

On a course softened by overnight watering, Rickie Fowler fired a five-under par 65 — a 19-shot improvement on his third-round 84.

“That’s the golf course I enjoy playing,” Fowler said. “Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer. The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we’ll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that’s for sure.”

England’s Tommy Fleetwood was four-under through 12 holes, five-over for the tournament and tied for seventh behind England’s Justin Rose, who started the day four-over and opened with three pars.

Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, was in the same spot going into the final as he was at Merion that year — one shot off the lead.

With Shinnecock posing a similar challenge — with it’s long rough and lightning greens — Rose was well aware of what would be required on Sunday.

“On this golf course, it’s patience, it’s commitment, it’s choosing your times to be aggressive,” Rose said. “You just have to play great golf out here.”