Dubai: Even on a day when he did not have his A game out there, Brooks Koepka was smashing records and continuing his imperious march towards successfully defending his PGA Championship title.
The thing is, the American has been such a standout competitor at Bethpage State Park’s demanding Black course that only the bravest would bet against him not becoming the first player to hold back-to-back titles in two Major championships come Sunday evening.
Koepka, also winner of successive U.S. Open titles over the last two years, finally faltered—by his own high standards—and could ‘only’ make three birdies against three bogeys in Saturday’s third round. But a round of even-par 70—on a day when the rising temperature baked the greens and the scoring average had soared to 72.354—was enough to take him to 12-under 198 and help maintain his seven-shot lead over his closest rivals.
An advantage of seven shots going into the final round has proved insurmountable in the history of Major championships, and even on the PGA Tour.
The ignominious record of biggest lead lost in Majors is six shots, held by Australia’s Greg Norman during the 1996 Masters, when he collapsed and surrendered a sure win to Nick Faldo. Scotland’s Paul Lawrie did come from 10 shots behind Jean van de Velde to win the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, but the Frenchman’s lead on the final day was five shots over the second-placed Justin Leonard and Craig Parry.
Four players were tied second at five-under par, a group that included his close friend and reigning World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (69), and the surprise package of the tournament, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond (67).
Matt Wallace (70), the 2018 Hero Indian Open champion, was tied for the sixth place at four-under par 136 alongside Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (68).
Koepka started brilliantly as usual, making full use of the easier opening stretch of holes and reaching 14-under par with birdies on the second and fifth holes.
However, his par putt from two feet on the ninth hole horse-shoed out and an errant drive to the right rough on the 10th cost him back-to-back bogeys. He had another three-putt bogey on the par-4 16th hole, which came after a birdie on the par-5 13th.
The slight wobble may have raised the hopes of some in the field, but the 29-year-old World No. 3 was under no doubt that he’d be lifting the massive Wanamaker Trophy once again on Sunday evening.
“No. I feel confident. I feel good. I feel excited,” said Koepka after the round.
“I was excited just to get to the course today, and then try to build that lead, but that didn’t happen. It’s a tough day and it would have been really hard to shoot 4- or 5-under. Any time the wind’s going to be blowing 15 at Bethpage Black, you’re in for a real test.
“I feel confident going into tomorrow. I don’t know what the forecast is. But if I can hit a few fairways, there’s really a couple key holes out here, you know, you play the seventh well, play 10 and 12 well, and then from there, you just hit the centre of the greens and try to par this place to death.
“I’m definitely not going to let up; I promise you that. I’m just trying to hit the best possible shot I can at the time. I’d love to force it on the field where I can make it as big as a lead as I possibly can get. It would be nice to be able to make a 10 on the last hole and be okay. But I’m just playing to play good golf, and wherever that puts me. I’ll be satisfied if I just go play one more good round.”
Johnson, who could lose his World No. 1 ranking to Koepka, was still hoping to be able to beat the runaway leader.
“I’m going to need some help from him, and then I’m going to have to play very, very well,” he said.
“I felt like I played well today. Just made too many bogeys. It wasn’t one thing or the other. Wind got me a couple times. You know, hit some drives that I thought should have ended up better than they did. It seemed like every time I got just a little bit out of position, I made bogey.
“There’s really nothing you can do on this golf course to change your approach. If I drive it in the fairway, I feel like there’s no hole I can’t attack because you can control the golf ball. The greens are fairly receptive.
“I got a lot of confidence in the irons and I’m driving it well, too. I just need to limit those misses.”
While beating Koepka may prove too ambitious for Janewattananond, a top-four finish gets him into the Masters and a top-12 would earn an invite back to the PGA Championship next year.
The 23-year-old Thai was cheered all the way by the New York fans as he moved to four-under par after 13 bogey-free holes, but dropped shots on the 14th and 17th before getting one back on the final hole.
“People keep shouting ‘love you.’ They love me here,” said Janewattananond, who is placed second in the Asian Tour Order of Merit right now.
“I love it. My first time ever getting a crowd like this, shouting my name. I don’t know how to react to it. This is my first time for the shouting. They give me some really funny names.
“I arrived here on Monday, it was raining. Tuesday was raining. The course was playing so tough because the rough was so long and the ball wasn’t going anywhere. I was having a nightmare. How am I going to play this golf course? I was thinking I’m not going to break 80. This has exceeded my expectation already.”
Jordan Spieth, bidding to become only the sixth player in the history of the game to complete a career grand slam with a win on Sunday, fell back to tied eighth place at three-under par 207 following a round of two-over 72.
LEADING SCORES (After Round Three, par-70 course)
198 – Brooks Koepka (USA) 63-65-70
205 – Jazz Janewattananond (Thailand) 70-68-67, Dustin Johnson (USA) 69-67-69, Luke List (USA) 68-68-69, Harold Varner III (USA) 71-67-67
206 – Hideki Matsuyama (Japan) 70-68-68, Matt Wallace (England) 69-67-70
207 – Patrick Cantlay (USA) 69-70-68, Xander Schauffele (USA) 70-69-68, Adam Scott (Australia) 71-64-72, Jordan Spieth (USA) 69-66-72
208 – Sung Kang (Korea Republic) 68-70-70, Erik Van Rooyen (South Africa) 70-68-70
209 – Rickie Fowler (USA) 69-69-71, Danny Lee (New Zealand) 64-74-71
210 – Lucas Bjerregaard (Denmark) 71-69-70, Tommy Fleetwood (England) 67-71-72, Lucas Glover (USA) 72-69-69, Chez Reavie (USA) 68-71-71, Justin Rose (England) 70-67-73, Danny Willett (England) 71-70-69.
Tiger, Rory lead storylines to watch out for at Pebble Beach
Dubai: Finally, the U.S. Open, almost always in the spotlight because of wrong reasons over the last few years, looks set to be remembered as a proper golf contest.
The United States Golf Association (USGA), which conducts the championship, have taken great pride in their objective of providing the toughest test of golf at the U.S. Open, but have often went overboard in tricking up the golf courses.
In their zealous pursuit, the USGA has let playing conditions get out of hand several times in the past. In the 2004 edition at Shinnecock Hills, the seventh hole became so hard and fast, it had to be watered in between groups. In 2015 at Chambers Bay, the greens were so bad that Henrik Stenson referred to them as ‘broccoli’. 2016 was the year of the Dustin Johnson rules fiasco. And in 2018, there was the unforgettable sight of a frustrated Phil Mickelson running after his putt and hitting his next while the ball was still in motion during the third round.
Those who have already reached the stunning golf course in Monterey County have praised the way it has been set up for this week. India’s Anirban Lahiri, who qualified for the tournament after finishing second in the Sectionals last week at Columbus, quipped: “Doesn’t feel like the US Open! There is nothing to complain about the golf course this year!”
Now that the course is not the centre of attention, let’s focus on the tournament. And it promises to be a cracker with several compelling storylines. Let’s have a look…
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 12, 2019
Tiger returns to a venue he blitzed in 2000
No talk of a Major tournament these days is complete without Tiger Woods. The 15-time Major champion will be looking for his 16th at Pebble Beach, the place where he set the record books on fire en route to his 2000 triumph.
That year, Woods won by 15 shots! It kickstarted the ‘Tiger Slam’, when he had possession of all four Major titles, winning the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2000 and the Masters in 2001. He started the week with a 65 and ended with a Sunday 67 for a 12-under par total, virtually lapping the field. Second-placed Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez were at three-over.
However, that was 19 years ago. Woods did win the Masters earlier this year, but he also missed the cut at the PGA Championship last month. He grew up in the area, so is used to the tricky poa annua greens. And his immaculate control over his iron shots will be a huge factor at Pebble.
McIlroy heads to Pebble in sizzling form
There was some concern about Rory McIlroy when he missed the cut at The Memorial after two fairly average outings at Majors – T21 at the Masters and T8 at the PGA Championship. This, despite the fact that he has a whopping nine top-10s in 11 starts, including a win at the Players Championship.
Any such talks were consigned to the trash bin after a most spectacular victory last week at the RBC Canadian Open, where he shot rounds of 64 and 61 over the weekend to romp home by seven shots.
There is just one issue though. Pebble Beach is not a golf course which can be dominated with the driver, which really has been McIlroy’s most lethal weapon. Will that change his gameplan, or are we in for yet another masterclass of aggressive golf from him?
Koepka goes for a repeat and three-peat
It’s not beyond the realms of imagination, at least not with Brooks Koepka and the kind of form he is in. If Koepka wins on Sunday, it will be his fifth Major title, a third straight US Open and a second straight Major after winning the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last month.
For the record, no golfer has ever won the US Open three times in a row in modern era (Willie Anderson won in 1903, ’04 and ’05).
Can Koepka do it? Form and his confidence level would suggest so. And then there is also the fact that he was so good getting out of the thick roughs at Bethpage Black. Brawn and brain is always a terrific combination.
Mickelson and his quest for Slam
Every US Open, and not without reason, Phil Mickelson seems to be one of the most engaging stories. The five-time Major champion needs just that one title to complete a career Grand Slam.
Mickelson has finished runner-up six times in the tournament, held every week during his birthday. It’s on Sunday this time, so there really could not be a better gift for himself than the U.S. Open trophy.
No player has won a Major aged 49 (Julius Boros was the oldest, winning the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years, four months and 18 days), but then Mickelson seems ageless. He actually won at Pebble Beach earlier this year (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), and that should count for something.
— USGA (@USGA) June 11, 2019
The resurgence of Spieth
It will remain one of golf’s greatest modern-day mysteries that Jordan Spieth, the man who could do no wrong not too long ago, went without a top-10 finish for 43 weeks after the 2018 Open Championship (where he was tied ninth).
The American has the most sublime touch on the greens, but started struggling with the flat club, and that put some pressure on his long game as well.
However, a tied third place at the PGA Championship saw him returning to form with the putter and he has had two further top-10s in two starts after that. This could be the week where everything comes together for Spieth and a fourth Major title is not a wild thought.
Johnson’s chance to get even at Pebble
Dustin Johnson arrived at Pebble Beach as a precocious 26-year-old during the 2010 U.S. Open. He had won the AT&T Pebble Beach twice (2009 and ’10) and was being looked upon as one of the favourites.
DJ did not disappoint, racing to a three-shot lead after the third round at six-under par. But in his quest for a first Major, he collapsed on the final day. An early triple and a double bogey took him out of contention and he wound up with an 82.
Nine years later, he has a chance to get even. Johnson, who severed ties with coach Claude Harmon III after the PGA Championship, knows how to handle the golf course and is in good form. The other motivation is reclaiming his world No1 ranking from Koepka.
Nice to get a feel for @PebbleBeachGolf on the best day of the year (so the locals say). Bit different from the @PlayStation version from a decade ago 😂. The course looks pristine and perfect for @usopengolf. Excited for the week to come. #currypower #golfheaven pic.twitter.com/j98uW0Ubn5
— Anirban Lahiri (@anirbangolf) June 11, 2019
Anirban ready to break US Open hoodoo
This is Anirban Lahiri’s third appearance at the U.S. Open—his first two being disappointing missed cuts. The Indian ace, who turns 32 later this month, hasn’t had a good year, but is showing signs of regaining his form of late.
Not only will a good finish in the U.S. Open look good on his resume, he also needs it given his tenuous position in the FedEx Cup. The other issue he’d be facing is that this is his first visit to Pebble Beach, having never played a PGA Tour event there before.
But Lahiri’s irons are becoming hot, and they will be critical on the iconic course which is well known for the small size of its greens.
Gaurika finds her winning touch at Clover Greens
New Delhi: Gaurika Bishnoi overcame a four-stroke deficit at the start of the final round to register her second win of the season on the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour, a media release stated. Gaurika fired three birdies in the last five holes to surpass overnight leader Gursimar Badwal.
Gaurika’s 67 saw her total eight-under 208, which was three clear of amateur Pranavi Urs, who registered the second 66 of the tournament. Pranavi, who began the week with a 76, recovered well over the final two days with 69-66 for a fine performance.
Gursimar played well on the first two days but had just one birdie on the final day. Badwal had two bogeys, but a triple bogey eight on the Par-5 14th put her out of contention. She finished in a tie for third alongside Amandeep Drall (70) and Tvesa Malik (68).
Ridhima Dilawari, seemed out of sorts in the first two rounds when she shot 73-74, but finally she found her form. However, the round of 68 helped her confidence for the upcoming events. She finished sixth at one-under 215, as six players finished the week with under-par totals, indicating a growing depth in Indian women’s golf.
There were two 66s and a 67 in the 15 under-par rounds in a week of impressive golf.
Guarika birdied the second and dropped her only bogey of the day at fourth, after that she was flawless. Pranavi was also two-under for the front nine and was two-under till the 12thwith four birdies against two bogeys.
On the last five holes, she had a hat-trick of birdies from 14th to 16thand another on 18th for four-under 31 and a total of 66, the second time this score was recorded this week.
Amandeep had a rough front nine with bogeys on third and fourth, but four birdies on the back nine helped her card 70 and finish in a tie for third.
Gaurika and Amandeep, winner of the previous two events at Clover Greens, were the only players to play all three rounds under par. Astha Madan (72) was seventh at one-over 217, while amateur Asmitha Sathish (72) and Ananya Datar (72) were tied-eighth. Neha Tripathi (72) and Millie Saroha (75) were tied-10th.
With 29 golfers in fray, this was the largest field in a domestic WGAI event ever, carrying a record Rs. 10 lakh purse.
Gaurika also moved to the top of the Hero WPGT Order of Merit with two wins in six starts and total earnings of Rs. 6,12,800. She went past Neha Tripathi (Rs. 5,56,800) and Gursimar Badwal (Rs. 5,20,133). The fourth player with over Rs. 5 lakhs is Amandeep Drall (Rs. 5,11,333).
Amandeep breaks into three-way lead with birdie hat-trick
Hosur, Tamil Nadu: Amandeep Drall, who is still looking for her first win of the ongoing season, finished with a hat-trick of birdies to take a share of the lead in the opening round of the Rs.10 lakh seventh leg of the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour. Drall, who has a special relationship with the layout at the Clover Greens, won both the events staged at the venue last year.
Drall shared the lead with Gaurika Bishnoi and Gursimar Badwal, who have both won once each this season. The trio shot one-under 71 each to take a one stroke lead over Hero Order of Merit leader Neha Tripathi and Ananya Datar. Both Neha and Ananya carded even par 72 each.
In a field of 26 pros and three amateurs, the largest ever assembled at a domestic event on the Hero WPG Tour, four players including Riddhima Dilawari, the only multiple winner this year, Khushi Khanijau, Millie Saroha and Astha Madan shot one-over 73 each to be tied sixth. Tvesa Malik was sole 10th with a round of 74.
This was Amandeep’s sixth successive sub-par round at the Clover Greens. The last time she shot worse than sub-par was an even par 72 in the first round of the eighth leg of the 2018 Tour, which too she won. She added the 10th leg with three straight sub-par rounds.
Gursimar birdied the second, but bogeyed the Par-5 third and then parred the remaining holes except for the Par-4 13th, which she birdied for a round of 71. Gursimar won the second leg this year.
Gaurika Bishnoi, who won the fifth leg this season, opened with a birdie but dropped back-to-back bogeys on seventh and eight to turn in one-over 38. On the back nine, she birdied 12th and 14th to get to under-par and finish at 71.
Neha had just one birdie on seventh and she gave that back on 15th, while Ananya had three birdies and three bogeys.
Astha was two-under through 11 holes, before dropping thee shots in the last seven, while Riddhima birdied second and then dropped three bogeys in a span of four holes between eighth and 11th. She made up one with a birdie on Par-3 16th.
Tvesa at sole 10th birdied twice, but she had a double on the 11th and two more bogeys on 5th and 12th in her 74.
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