Golf

Brooks Koepka still dangerous after US Open runner-up

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Brooks Koepka didn’t win the U.S. Open on Sunday at Pebble Beach, and that’s OK.

Koepka didn’t make history, by becoming the first player since Willie Anderson from 1903-05 to win America’s national championship three straight years.

That, however, doesn’t diminish his remarkable string of accomplishments over the past two years. And it doesn’t take away from the fact that he remains the most dominant force in golf and the clear favorite to win the British Open in July at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.

As of Monday, Westgate SuperBook had installed Koepka as the overwhelming favorite to win the British at 6/1, with Rory McIlroy next at 10/1, and Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson next at 12/1.

If anything, Koepka’s runner-up finish to first-time major championship winner Gary Woodland further cements his status as the baddest golfer on the planet at the moment, because he still managed to shoot a final-round 3-under 68 Sunday without his best stuff.

That always is one of the indelible marks of a great golfer. Ask Woods, who routinely won major championships without his “A’’ game.

If Koepka is to win the British Open, which would serve as the third leg of a career Grand Slam (he hasn’t won a Masters yet, either), that would be his fifth major championship victory in the past 10 he would have played.

He’s already on a Woods-like pace, having won four of his past nine starts in majors.

For those Koepka supporters who were disappointed in his second place Sunday, remember this: Along with the record 18 major championships Jack Nicklaus won are his 19 runner-up finishes in majors.

In the past four major championships, Keopka has either won or finished second. Those are staggering numbers and they represent a trend that helped Koepka walk away from Pebble Beach without regret and with only minor disappointment that he was unable to birdie the final hole to shave the Woodland lead down to one and put a little pressure on Woodland as he played the 18th.

If you boil down the proceedings at Pebble, Koepka got beat by his own game — artfully, if unwittingly — employed by Woodland, who, like Koepka, can tear a golf course apart with his brute strength yet finesse it with a skilled short game and putting, and break opponents’ will with an unaffected, calm demeanor that shows no cracks.

That has been Koepka’s blueprint. Whether Woodland was emulating it, simply finally figured out what works best for him or this was a one-time-wonder thing, is up for debate. But the fact is Koepka was beaten by his own game. And there’s no shame in that.

“I played great,’’ Koepka said. “Gary played a great four days. That’s what you’ve got to do if you want to win a U.S. Open, win a major championship and hats off to him. He deserves it, he’s worked hard and I’m happy for him.’’

Koepka became the first player in U.S. Open history to shoot four rounds in the 60s and not win. Only three before him had accomplished that feat — Rory McIlroy, Lee Trevino and Lee Janzen — and all three of them hoisted the winner’s hardware at the end.

That’s why Koepka insisted that not winning this tournament “doesn’t sting.’’

“I gave it my all,’’ he said. “Sometimes, like this week — it happened at Augusta — it’s not meant to be.’’

Indeed, in April at Augusta, where Koepka finished runner-up to Woods, it was destined to be Woods’ week.

“It was awesome to come this close to going three in a row,’’ Koepka said. “I didn’t really think about it until I was done on 18 and realized how close I actually was to kind of, I guess, not making history, but kind of tying it. But it’s a cool feeling to know. [It] just wasn’t meant to be this week.’’

Don’t bet on it not being “meant to be’’ for Koepka next month at Royal Portrush, where his caddie, Ricky Elliott, grew up.

The night before the final round at Pebble Beach, Woodland got a poignant text from his short-game coach, Pete Cowan, that read: “Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment.’’

The same, of course, can be said of Koepka.



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