Steady Koepka is king of the Hills

By Rex HoggardJune 19, 2017, 2:23 am

ERIN, Wis. – Luckily for the 117th U.S. Open, headlines don’t always tell the complete story.

In order, a balloon tumbled from the sky in a fiery ball on Thursday, then the next day officials announced an E. coli scare on property. It all kind of made one pine for the days when the most frightening thing at the championship was deep rough and a USGA official waiting for you with a rulebook on the 12th tee.

But for all the distractions at Erin Chills, all the social media scuffling over supercharged fescue and a golf course that could be stretched to 18 miles, it was a fresh wind from the northwest and the inspired play of Brooks Koepka on Sunday that turned what could have been a week to forget into something worth remembering.

After four days of wild lead changes and frenzied congestion, Koepka converted the clutch putts, took advantage of a rare U.S. Open venue with four par 5s and limited his misses, not posting a single score worse than bogey at what turned out to be an MIA Open for the missing marquee.

A week that began with no Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, marking the first time since 1994 at least one of the game’s leading men wasn’t in the field at a major, begat a weekend without world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, respectively – for the first time at a major.

While those titans may have been missed, it turns out they simply missed Koepka’s coronation, the completion of his transition from a calm and confident player with plenty of potential to a bona fide star who didn’t blink when the game’s most demanding test finally arrived on Day 4.

Even when Hideki Matsuyama made the long walk up the hill to the scoring area with the clubhouse lead at 12 under Koepka kept up appearances, which in his case would best be described as intense indifference. Or maybe aloof aplomb would be a better way to sum up the 27-year-old’s unique persona.


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With Matsuyama setting the mark, Koepka answered by rolling in 32 feet of birdie putts at the 14th, 15th and 16th holes to move four clear of the field. He cruised home from there to a record-tying total in relation to par at 16 under and his first major title.

“This week I honestly don’t think I ever got nervous, I just stayed in the moment,” Koepka said with a signature shrug.

The Erin Hills Open may have been an extreme break from the norm, with 31 players finishing under par for the week, but to casual observers the final outcome probably looked vaguely familiar to last year’s event which was won by Dustin Johnson, a close friend of Koepka’s and something of his equal in the flat-liner department.

Johnson, who won last year with a similarly commanding performance at Oakmont, called Koepka on the eve of the final round to offer support and the two spent time together earlier this week playing practice rounds and doing whatever world-class athletes do when they aren’t winning.

“He’s always pretty flat line, I think that’s why people compare him to DJ and it’s why they get along so well. They are similar people, nothing fazes them and they’re pretty chilled out,” said Koepka’s swing coach, Claude Harmon III.

Beyond that calm exterior and limitless power, however, there’s a subtle if not substantial difference between Koepka and Johnson. Unlike the world No. 1, Koepka didn’t arrive on the PGA Tour with untold fanfare or enjoy immediate and unqualified success.

Instead, he forged a much different path, starting out on the European Challenge Tour, the Continent’s version of Triple A golf, before moving onto the European Tour.

He played tournaments in far-flung places like Kazakhstan and had to have extra pages put into his passport at one point because of his extensive travels. But most importantly he learned.

“He’s slept in his car, he’s done everything on the way up. He’s slept in a B&B with four of us and struggled along the way and that’s helped him appreciate where he is,” said Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott.

So when he began this year by missing four of his first six cuts, he didn’t panic, he didn’t try to find new answers or reinvent a wheel that has always run at an extremely high speed.

“It’s the Mike Tyson thing. It had been easy up until the beginning of this year for Brooks. But as Mike Tyson said, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ All of a sudden golf’s not easy,” Harmon said. “He missed a bunch of cuts and I think it spurred him on. He bounced back and recovered from that. It was massive.”

Koepka’s victory was equally massive for a championship that seemed to lack an identity, initially as a result of the perceived missing star power and then as scoring reached record levels.

Rickie Fowler initially filled the star void, taking the first-round lead with a 65 and starting the final round just two strokes back, but he never managed to close the gap and finished with an even-par 72 to tie for fifth.

Brian Harman emerged on the weekend as a potential breakout player and for 63 holes a steady putter kept him in contention. But after crucial par putts at the sixth and ninth holes to keep pace with Koepka, Harman’s chances slowly devolved into a “dogs chasing cars” deal, with missed par attempts at the 12th and 13th holes. After going 25 holes without a bogey, he never recovered and tied for second place at 12 under par.

“If you would have told me I’d shoot 12 under at the U.S. Open and not win I’d have taken the bet for sure,” said Harman, who had made the cut in just two of his previous seven major starts.

What the leaderboard may have lacked in marquee, it made up for in variety. Four players shared the lead at the turn on Friday and that number ballooned to seven players midway through Round 3 before separation Sunday finally arrived.

The 117th edition may not have been the showstopper officials had been hoping for, but after taking a few shots to the chin in recent years the USGA’s experiment at Erin Hills was widely considered a success, qualified or otherwise.

“I think they did a fantastic job,” said Jordan Spieth, one of the few high-profile players to even make it to the weekend. “Chambers [Bay] was tough with the greens, and then last year had a tough Sunday. And I thought that the USGA did a phenomenal job this week of allowing the golf course to be what it is and play the way it's supposed to play. Not trying to do anything to hold any kind of standard. Instead, create an environment where if you play well, you can score, and if you don't, then it can go the other way.”

In many minds the Erin Hills Open was likely saved by Sunday’s breeze. After three days of record scoring that included Justin Thomas’ 9-under 63 – the lowest score in relation to par ever at the U.S. Open, which prompted the previous record holder Johnny Miller to compare the event with the Milwaukee Open – balance and a bite was returned to the golf universe on Day 4.

Sunday’s winds finally put the fear back in the golf, where it should be at the U.S. Open, and as is always the case the most fearless player emerged.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.

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Garcia tosses driver, misses Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he eventually missed the cut by a shot. It marks the first time he has missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.

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Johnson, Moore co-lead Valero Texas Open through 36

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson was going nowhere in the Valero Texas Open when it all changed with one putt.

He made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole of the opening round to stay at 2 under. He followed with a big drive, a hybrid into 12 feet and an eagle. Johnson was on his way, and he kept right on going Friday to a 7-under 65 and a share of the 36-hole lead with Ryan Moore.

''You just never know. That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. ''I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. You just never know.''

Moore had three birdies over his last five holes for a 67 and joined Johnson at 9-under 135.

They had a one-shot lead over Grayson Murray (69) and Andrew Landry (67).

Ben Crane (66), Martin Laird (65) and David Hearn (68) were three shots behind. Billy Horschel and Keegan Bradley shot 71 and were four shots behind at 5-under 139.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, had a short stay in his first time at the Texas Open since 2010. Garcia shot an even-par 72, and at one point became so frustrated he threw his driver into the shrubs.

Garcia finished at 2-over 146 and missed the cut.

It was the first time since 2010 that Garcia missed the cut in successive starts. That was the PGA Championship and, 10 weeks later, the Castello Masters in Spain. This time, he missed the cut in the Masters and Texas Open three weeks apart.

Johnson, a two-time winner of the Texas Open, appeared to be headed to a short week until the key par save on the 13th hole, followed by his eagle, par and three straight birdies. He began the second round Friday with five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, a sixth birdie on the par-4 first hole, and then an eagle on the short par-4 fifth when he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The only sour taste to his second round was a three-putt bogey from about 30 feet on his final hole. Even so, the view was much better than it was Thursday afternoon.

Moore thought he had wasted a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th hole when he left his 50-foot eagle putt about 6 feet short. But he made that, and then holed a similar putt from 8 feet for birdie on the next hole and capped his good finish with a 15-foot putt on the 17th.

''That was a huge momentum putt there,'' Moore said of the 14th. ''It was a tough putt from down there with a lot of wind. That green is pretty exposed and ... yeah, really short and committed to that second putt really well and knocked it right in the middle.''

The birdies on the 14th and 15th were important to Moore because he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie tries to start the back nine.

''So it was nice to get those and get going in the right direction on the back,'' he said.

The cut was at 1-over 145, and because 80 players made the cut, there will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday.

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Daly-Allen team grabs Legends of Golf lead on Day 2

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:14 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - John Daly and Michael Allen took the second-round lead Friday in the cool and breezy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Daly and Allen shot an 8-under 46 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course with wind gusting to 15 mph and the temperature only in the high-50s at Big Cedar Lodge. They had three birdies on the front nine in alternate-shot play and added five more on the back in better-ball play to get to 13 under.

''Michael and I go back to the South African days in the late 80s and playing that tour,'' Daly said. ''We've been buddies since. He's just fun to play with. We feed off each other pretty good. And if he's not comfortable guinea-pigging on one hole, I'll go first.''

On Thursday, they opened with a 66 on the regulation Buffalo Ridge course. They will rotate to the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course on Saturday, and return to Top of the Rock for the final round Sunday.

''I went to high school in Jeff City, so it's cool to have the fans behind us,'' Daly said.

Allen won the PGA Tour Champions team event with David Frost in 2012 and Woody Austin in 2016.

''I'm just here to free up John,'' Allen said. ''It was fun. Luckily, I started making good putts today. We just want to keep the good times rolling.''


Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf


Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco were a stroke back along with Bernhard Langer-Tom Lehman and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett. Singh and Franco had a 7-under 32 in best-ball play at Mountain Top, and Lehman-Langer and Broadhurst-Tripplet each shot 6-under 48 at Top of the Rock.

''Part of the issue here is all the tees are elevated, so you're up high hitting to a green that's down below and the wind is blowing, and there is more time for that wind to affect it,'' Lehman said. ''If you guess wrong on the wind, you can hit a really good shot and kind of look stupid.''

Former UCLA teammates Scott McCarron and Brandt Jobe were two strokes back at 11 under with Steve Flesch and David Toms and the Spanish side of Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. McCarron-Jobe had a 47, and Jimenez-Olazabal a 48 at Top of the Rock, and Tom Flesch shot 34 at Mountain Top.

First-round leaders Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik had a 52 at Top of the Rock to fall three shots back at 10 under. Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly also were 10 under after a 32 at Mountain Top. Jay Haas aced the 131-yard seventh hole at Mountain Top with a gap wedge. Haas and fellow 64-year-old Peter Jacobsen were 8 under after a 32.