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In the battle of bros, Koepka 1-ups DJ

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:12 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It’s a scene that occurs on a regular basis at the Joey D Golf Training Center, frenzied workouts driven by an intense combination of competition and desire.

Under the watchful eye of longtime PGA Tour trainer Joey Diovisalvi, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson will turn even the most mundane elements of their workouts into winner-take-all contests – from the duo’s warmup on stationary bikes to the various exercises that have turned the twosome into a pair of the game’s most imposing figures.

It was during one of these hyper-fueled sessions a few months ago when Koepka suggested he could become world No. 1.

“I think Brooks was 11th in the world at the time, and Dustin said, ‘Yeah, if you add a ‘1’ to that,’” Diovisalvi recalled. “Brooks said, ‘You wait and see; you want to come to my party and put the banner up?’ Dustin just laughed, ‘Not while I’m alive, it’s not happening.’”

That rivalry, which is as friendly as it is genuine, was taken to a new level on Sunday at the U.S. Open when the duo set out for the final lap in the day’s penultimate group. Golf’s undisputed Bash Brothers going head-to-head after having traded titles at the last two U.S. Opens, the prototype of the modern professional playing on golf’s most demanding stage.

To the New York masses, the twosome must have looked like the guy most likely to ask how long you’re going to be using the bench press at your local gym, a pair of golfing unicorns who have combined unrelenting power with wildly underrated precision.


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With apologies to all those who set out for the final round at Shinnecock Hills with the greatest expectations, this was always going to come down to either Koepka or Johnson.

Koepka won his first U.S. Open in dominant fashion last year at Erin Hills and Johnson got on the board in 2016 at Oakmont, so it should have been no surprise that, as the duo went through their normal “game day” workout early Sunday together, there was the unspoken realization that the day’s competition was just beginning.

“[Koepka] likes to beat DJ,” said Claude Harmon III, the swing coach for both men. “We’re in an era now where it’s a great time in golf that all the guys are friends and there are great friendships, but trust me – all these guys want to win. Brooks wants to beat everybody, including DJ who is his closest friend out here. He wants to beat him in the gym, in everything they do.”

Even in the Official World Golf Ranking, which currently features Johnson atop the pack?

“Absolutely, he tells him all the time,” Harmon said.

Koepka won’t climb to No. 1 in world on Monday, but he did one-up his South Florida stablemate by becoming the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1989, to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

It was a perfectly Koepka performance.

A day that began with a no small measure of apprehension following Saturday’s inexplicable setup snafu – that prompted some players to contend that the USGA had “lost” the golf course for the second consecutive championship at Shinnecock Hills – quickly settled into the kind of competitive grind for which the U.S. Open is known.

Koepka broke out of a four-way tie for first place with a 20-footer for birdie at the second, added another at the third to go two strokes clear and appeared to be on cruise control. But then U.S. Opens, real U.S. Opens where par is a good score and the USGA dances dangerously close to the edge, are never that easy.

The first crack came at the par-3 11th hole when Koepka airmailed the green and needed to convert a 12-footer for bogey. He scrambled again at the 12th with a 6-footer for par and salvaged his advantage at the 14th hole after finding the fescue with his drive.

With Tommy Fleetwood – who became the sixth player to shoot 63 in a U.S. Open to settle into the clubhouse lead at 2 over par – watching from the range, Koepka walked to the 72nd tee with a two-stroke advantage. There was no suspense, no moments of anxiety, no reason to think he would allow this opportunity to slip away.

For all the complaints about Saturday’s setup, which even USGA CEO Mike Davis said were justified, this was the kind of U.S. Open Koepka relishes.

“This week is just back to a typical U.S. Open, where 1 over par wins the golf tournament,” said Koepka, who closed with a 68. “It's just a lot of grinding. But I couldn't be happier with the way I played.”

Picking your favorite major is often like picking your favorite child – they are all special in their unique way – but Koepka had no problem giving his second turn as U.S. Open champion its proper place.

This was special. Special because he outplayed Johnson, who closed with a 70 to finish in third place at 3 over. Special because of the workmanlike performance Shinnecock Hills demanded. And special because the last year hasn’t exactly been a celebration.

Toward the end of 2017, Koepka began to feel pain in his left wrist. He would miss the Masters with a partially torn tendon and spend 3 ½ maddening months on his couch recovering.

“We were worried that he wasn’t even going to be able to come here and defend,” said Koepka’s father, Bob. “I’m just thankful that he’s been able to recover. It’s been a long three months for him.”

Although he didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, his return to competitive form was nothing short of meteoric, even by modern standards. And when he finished runner-up at last month’s Fort Worth Invitational, just his fourth event back, his confidence quickly returned.

“He’d never really been a golf nerd and I think he fell in love with golf again,” Harmon said. “When he came back there was something I hadn’t seen with him wanting to play again. He watched the Masters. He never watches the Masters.”

He also was back in the gym, alongside Johnson, rekindling the duo’s ongoing bout of one-upmanship. Early Sunday during their pre-round workout it was the status quo for Koepka and Johnson, friendly banter that both lightens the mood and inspires excellence.

But it was different once the two set out for the final round. There were no jokes, no trash talking, no talking of any kind, in fact.

“I love Dustin. He's one of my best friends,” Koepka said. “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. Maybe I said something on [No.] 3, and that was about it.”

There will be plenty to talk about next week when they renew what is one of the game’s most unique friendships and rivalries. Koepka won’t ascend to No. 1 in the world just yet, but he will hang a banner in Diovisalvi’s gym – 2018 U.S. Open champion – and Johnson wouldn’t miss that moment.

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Woods on firing shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.

His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.

“I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.

“I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”

Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.

It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.


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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.