Sport U.S. Open: No surprise Brooks Koepka gets into contention at Torrey Pines

02:10  18 june  2021
02:10  18 june  2021 Source:   golfweek.com

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Brooks Koepka holding a frisbee: PGA: U.S. Open - First Round © Provided by Golfweek PGA: U.S. Open - First Round "(function() {var sc = document.createElement(\"script\"), scCnter = document.getElementById(\"container-sdp-voltax-player-01evcfxp4q8949fs1e-5094\"), done = false;sc.src = mm_video_data.endpointUrl + \"\/01evcfxp4q8949fs1e.js\";sc.onload = sc.onreadystatechange = function() {if(!done && (!this.readyState || this.readyState == \"loaded\" || this.readyState == \"complete\")) {sdpVoltax[\"01evcfxp4q8949fs1e-5094\"].initializePlayer( {\"id\":\"01f8dpykab7eb0zhdkqd\",\"playlist_id\":\"01es6rjnsp3c84zkm6\",\"player_id\":\"01evcfxp4q8949fs1e\",\"type\":\"video\",\"image\":\"https:\\\/\\\/images2.minutemediacdn.com\\\/image\\\/upload\\\/video\\\/thumbnail\\\/mmplus\\\/01f8dpykab7eb0zhdkqd\\\/01f8dpykab7eb0zhdkqd-c2d00ea3e30732f856d806de682cd8b3.jpg\",\"container_id\":\"01evcfxp4q8949fs1e-5094\"});done = true; sc.onload = sc.onreadystatechange = null; }};scCnter.appendChild(sc);})();"var sdpVoltax = window.sdpVoltax || []; sdpVoltax["01evcfxp4q8949fs1e-5094"] = sdpVoltaxPlayerHandler().start("01evcfxp4q8949fs1e-5094");

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Major maestro Brooks Koepka.

Following a 90-minute delay to the start of the 121st playing of the national championship on the seaside South Course at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Koepka didn’t take long to hit the front page of the leaderboard and stay there.

The four-time major champion and winner of the U.S. Open in 2017 at Erin Hills and 2018 at Shinnecock, who also finished runner-up in 2019 at Pebble Beach, made birdie on four of his first 11 holes to take sole possession of the early lead in calm conditions.

As winds freshened and the course hardened, Koepka dealt with a few missteps, hitting into a hazard on the cliffside par-3 third hole and missing the green on the par-4 seventh. But he saved bogey on each hole, added another tough up-and-down for par on the par-3 eighth and finished with a 2-under-par 69.

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It was Koepka’s sixth consecutive round in the 60s in the U.S. Open.

“You can’t win it today, but you can definitely lose it,” Koepka said. “It was nice to get off to a good start, putted well, drove it well on the back nine, my front, but missed a couple fairways there. I missed them on the correct side, which is what you’ve got to do, depending on where the pin location is and get lucky enough where you’ve got a decent lie and get it there.

“Pretty pleased. Not the best, but I’ll definitely take it.”

Russell Henley matched his career-low round in a U.S. Open to grab the clubhouse lead with a 67.

“I feel like the last year I’ve been playing golf that I feel like I’m a top-50 player in the world,” Henley said. “I’ve had a ton of top 10s. I’ve been in contention. I’ve been really consistent. The last couple tournaments I’ve played haven’t been quite as good, but the last year has been really consistent and really good. I feel like I’m just kind of still playing well.

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“That doesn’t mean I’m going to definitely do that the next three days, but I definitely felt comfortable out there. I feel confident with my game. I don’t feel like it’s a huge surprise just because I do feel like I’ve played some good golf in some bigger events in the last year, but in terms of putting four rounds together at a U.S. Open, I’ve struggled with that. So, I’m just going to keep trying.”

Francesco Molinari, who won the 2018 Open Championship, has only played in four tournament in four months but got home with a 68. He was joined there by Rafa Cabrera Bello. World No. 6 and San Diego native Xander Schauffele, who has been no worse than a tie for sixth in his last four U.S. Opens, shot 69.

World No. 4 and 2020 PGA champion Collin Morikawa shot 75, world No. 2 Justin Thomas 73. Phil Mickelson, who won the PGA last month and is a U.S. Open victory shy of the career Grand Slam, shot 75.

As for Koepka, there were only a few reminders of his public and social media tussles with Bryson DeChambeau that have grabbed headlines for weeks now, as a few hecklers called him “Bryson” during the round. While he clearly heard the taunts, Koepka ignored them, put his head down and went back to work.

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And delivered plenty of reminders of why he plays so well in major championships – four wins, three seconds and four other top-10s in his last 16 starts in the game’s four biggest events.

Power, precision and pure confidence as he walks the grounds likes he owns the place, whether it’s Torrey Pines, Shinnecock, Bellerive where he won the 2018 PGA or Bethpage Black where he won the 2019 PGA. Through 11 holes he was rarely in trouble and then mitigated damage when he needed to coming in.

Koepka, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year, has dealt with hip and neck problems and his surgically repaired right knee for much of the wrap-around season (he could not play in the 2020 U.S. Open last September). He missed the cut in last week’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree in the Lowcountry of South Carolina but said his right knee felt as good as it has in a long time and he benefitted from the reps of playing under the gun against the best players in the world.

The world No. 10 also benefits every time he shows up at a major championship, his focus suddenly sharpening and his play usually improving.

“I’ve just got a good game plan, focused, I know what I’m doing, and I don’t try to do anything I can’t,” he said. “It’s just all about discipline in a U.S. Open. That’s, I guess, the gist of it. It’s pretty simple. It’s a lot simpler than what guys make it.

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U.S. Open © File photo U.S. Open

Brooks Koepka looks over the 11th green during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

“I think a lot of guys make it more difficult than it needs to be. Just got to understand where the flag is, what you’re doing and where to miss it. Look, you’re going to make mistakes out here. You can’t make double bogeys. If you can limit those to just bogeys, you’re going to be all right.”

First-round play will likely spill into Friday. Among those who have just started play were world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, world No. 3 Jon Rahm, defending champion DeChambeau, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, two-time major victor Bubba Watson and major champions Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.


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