SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) — Dustin Johnson had a four-stroke lead after 36 holes and was still in striking distance heading onto the back nine in the final round of the U.S. Open.
Instead of making a move, he lost ground.
The 2016 champion three-putted three times on the back nine at Shinnecock Hills, shooting an even-par 70 on Sunday to finish third, two strokes back, as workout buddy and final-round partner Brooks Koepka claimed his second U.S. Open title in a row.
“When we’re all done, he’s going to win another one,” Koepka said. “I mean, we all know that. … He’s one of the best to ever play the game.”
After winning at Oakmont, Johnson missed the cut at Erin Hills last year. Unable to defend his title over the weekend, he called Koepka to give him advice on how to win the tournament.
This year in the Hamptons, the two players worked out together before each of the last two rounds but kept things professional from tee to green.
“We talked a lot more when we worked out than when we were on the golf course,” Koepka said. “I love Dustin. He’s one of my best friends. To play alongside him, it was fun today. I was excited about it. I figured he would be the guy to beat.
“But I didn’t talk to him today,” Koepka said. “We’re both competitive. We both know we’re trying to beat each other and trying to win a golf tournament, trying to win a major. There’s a little bit of stress.”
Koepka said the two talked about the break of the green on No. 3 but otherwise didn’t chat during the round. Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, who was walking with the group as part of the broadcasting crew, said he noticed that the two maintained their distance.
“But that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “If they’re best buddies, that’s (what’s) standing between me and the trophy. You don’t care much for them for 4½ hours.”
The No. 1 player in the world, Johnson was the only one to break par in each of the first two rounds, and after 36 holes he seemed like one of the biggest obstacles to Koepka’s chances of a repeat. No one had taken a four-stroke lead into the weekend and failed to win since Tom McNamara suffered a heat stroke on the 68th hole in 1909.
But Johnson shot 77 in the third round, with a bogey on the final hole to surrender sole possession of the lead. He entered the final day in a four-way tie at 3 over and was still only one stroke behind Koepka when they made the turn.
Then Johnson missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 11. And a 7-foot par putt on No. 14. He still had a chance to catch Koepka as he lined up a 62-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th hole, but he wound up three-putting for bogey.
In all, Johnson took 14 more putts over the weekend than Koepka, who leads him with two major victories to one. Johnson did not speak to reporters after the round was over.
“I’m sure there’s nobody happier for me than Dustin,” Koepka said. “When I get back home, he’ll be the first one I call to go hang out.”