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Koepka survives Fleetwood challenge, wins second straight US Open

Brooks Koepka of the United States lines up a putt on the 15th green
AFP

Southampton (United States) (AFP) – Brooks Koepka became the first player in three decades to repeat as US Open Champion here Sunday, firing a gritty final round 68 at Shinnecock Hills to beat Tommy Fleetwood by one stroke.

A year after he marched to victory with a 16-under total at Erin Hills, Koepka kept his nerve on the back nine to emerge with a one-over-par total of 281.

“To go back to back, I really can’t even put it into words,” said Koepka, who was flirting with the cut line when he was seven-over par during the second round on Friday.

“We grinded our tail off this week to come back from seven-over and do what we did. It was pretty special.”

The world number nine is the seventh player to win back-to-back US Open crowns, and the first since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.

After overpowering the wide-open Erin Hills, he kept his nerve through four brutal days at Shinnecock.

“It’s much more gratifying the second time,” said Koepka, who had battled a partially torn wrist tendon that sidelined him nearly four months since his major breakthrough last year. “I don’t think I could have dreamed of this.”

A day after scores soared on the dried out greens, the US Golf Association admitted the course got out of hand, adding plenty of moisture and some slightly more forgiving pins.

England’s 12th-ranked Fleetwood seized the opportunity to match the lowest round ever in the US Open with a brilliant seven-under 63 for a two-over total of 282.

Fleetwood had stormed into the clubhouse with a round that included eight birdies, putting the pressure on overnight leaders Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau.

Only Koepka met the challenge. He had broken out of the pack with three birdies in the first five holes.

Playing in freshening wind and knowing that Fleetwood was in the clubhouse on two-over Koepka produced a string of clutch putts on the back nine.

A six-foot birdie at the 10th gave him a two-stroke lead. A tough 12-footer limited the damage at 11 to what he called “a great bogey” after he hit over the green into deep rough and from there into a bunker.

He got up and down for par at the 12th, and escaped with a par from deep rough at 14 before giving himself some breathing room with a birdie at the par-five 16th — where he stuck his third shot less than four feet from the pin.

“I felt like I made those clutch eight- to 10-footers that you need to keep the momentum going,” Koepka said. “We didn’t drive it that great, but you can make up so much with a hot putter and that’s kind of what I was doing.”

By the time Koepka’s approach at 18 hit a grandstand and bounced off a closing bogey was academic.

– ‘Great day’ for Fleetwood –

Fleetwood could only watch it all unfold. But after nearly equalling the best ever round in a major of 62 he was pleased with his day’s work.

“Watching them down the stretch, you’ve got nothing but respect for how well Brooks did, just to hole the putts at the right time,” said Fleetwood, who could only watch and wait. “He kept it together. he’s a world player. It wasn’t great for me, but it was great as a golfer to watch how he did it and watch how he closed it out.”

It was the first time since 2013 at Merion that no one broke par in the US Open, and of the four overnight leaders, Koepka was the only player to shoot an under par final round.

World number one Johnson, playing alongside Koepka in the penultimate group, saw the sure putting touch that had propelled him to a four-shot halfway lead desert him.

He birdied the 72nd for an even par 70 that left him alone in third on 283.

Finau, playing in the final group with Berger, closed with a double bogey at the 72nd hole for a 72 that left him fifth on 285 — one stroke behind Masters champion Patrick Reed.

Reed fired five birdies in the first seven holes but cooled off coming in for a two-under 68.

Berger faded early, his 73 leaving him tied for sixth at six-over with England’s Tyrrell Hatton, American Xander Schauffele and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.

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