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The Punter's US Open De-Brief: King Koepka overpowers Erin Hills to claim first major

Brooks Koepka with the US Open trophy
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Our man looks back at an eventful US Open, won in fine style by Brooks Koepka at Erin Hills...

“Paul Casey fell away, Matsuyama finished fast to be second and Bill Haas sneaked into a tie for fifth but four of the top-five after round one finished inside the top-six at the finish. Yet again, it was a case of getting off to a quick start and staying on the premises.”

With four players within a stroke of the lead and the well-fancied Rickie Fowler two back with a round to go, the 117th US Open looked set to be a tight affair and it looked highly likely that we'd have a closely fought battle right up to the line and maybe even into a playoff today, but the simply wasn't the case, thanks to the sheer brilliance of Brooks Koepka.

With others falling by the wayside on the front-nine, Koepka and Brian Harman, who hit a low of [2.5], put daylight between themselves and the remainder but as Harman bogeyed 12 and 13, Koepka birdied 14, 15 and 16 to forge clear and to eventually win by a comfortable four strokes.

The 27-year-old Floridian, who was tipped up by Dave Tindall in the each-way column and also by Sarah Stirk before the off here, was matched at a high of [70.0] on the Exchange but he was generally a [55.0] and [60.0] chance.

Brooks began the week at number 22 in the world rankings but ended it at number ten and Hideki Matsuyama, who finished the week alongside Harman in a tie for second, moves up to number two in the world, and that's the highest ranking achieved by a Japanese player.


My Bets

I had some really nice positions going into round four but I was still against the eventual winner, and Justin Thomas. The latter's dreadful start was a big plus and I was able to cover Brooks to make a profit on my Exchange trading but it wasn't the result I was after. A win for Rickie Fowler or Harman would have been really nice and had Si Woo Kim took the title I'd have been booking flights to somewhere exotic but it wasn't to be.

A partial place on my ante-post bet on Rickie Fowler and a decent bet on David Lingmerth to be the top Swede at 11/2 boosted profits further but it wasn't the week I'd hoped for.

With hindsight, I was clearly too negative about Koepka's temperament in-running and I should have sided with him earlier but it's always easier afterwards.

In yesterday's In-Play Blog entry I wrote, "Would I be surprised if he won? Not one bit. Do I perceive him as a value play right now? No." and that really summed up how I felt about him all week. I'd seen him flap in-contention numerous times so he never really appeared to represent any value to me and I'm quite surprised how calm and nerveless he was yesterday.


Will We See Erin Hills Again?

With soft greens and little wind to speak of, we didn't get a traditional US Open grind last week. A number of scoring records went and Brooks' winning total of 16-under-par equalled Rory McIlroy's record set in 2011 at rain-soaked Congressional.

It didn't really feel like a US Open from start to finish and personally, I missed the usual grind, but I still enjoyed the tournament and I enjoyed the course too. I saw a few comments that it was bland and just a bombers' paradise but the players all spoke highly of it and it would have been a brute in bad weather.

Erin Hills is reminiscent of another Wisconsin venue, Whistling Straights, which hosted the USPGA Championship in 2010 and 2015 and I fancy that's the event we'll see hosted next at Erin Hills. Last week's tournament looked and felt more like a USPGA than a US Open and it would make for a cracking USPGA host course.

It's admirable that the USGA have broken convention and tried a few new venues but the next four renewals are back at more traditional host venues - Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and Torrey Pines - so it will be nice to know what to expect.


What Have We Leaned This Week?

I haven't seen the Driving Distance stats as yet but Koepka is very long off the tee and once again a powerful long game proved vital.

Koepka ranked number one for Greens In Regulation and that was largely due to how far down the fairway he was after his drives.

It may not have been a traditional looking US Open but once again, being up with the pace form very early on proved essential. Below is the first round leaderboard and the final standings and it's very noticeable how little changed.

After Round One

Rickie Fowler -7

Paul Casey -6
Xander Schauffele -6

Brooks Koepka -5
Tommy Fleetwood -5
Brian Harman -5


Final Standings

Brooks Koepka -16

Hideki Matsuyama -12

Brian Harman -12

Tommy Fleetwood -11

Rickie Fowler -10
Xander Schauffele -10
Bill Haas -10


Paul Casey fell away, Matsuyama finished fast to be second and Bill Haas sneaked into a tie for fifth but four of the top-five after round one finished inside the top-six at the finish. Yet again, it was a case of getting off to a quick start and staying on the premises.

At number 22 in the world rankings and with a recent second placed finish at the Texas Open in the formbook, Koepka wasn't an unusual winner. He also had a very strong major record and a decent US Open record so he fitted the mould nicely. His US Open form now reads MC-4-18-13-1 and it was his fourth placed finish at Pinehurst in 2014 that earnt him is PGA Tour card. Until then he'd been plying his trade in Europe having graduated from the Challenge Tour.

Koepka was the seventh straight first time major winner and he was the 10th first time major winner in 13 US Opens so this event in-particular is one in which major maidens have enjoyed plenty of success.


What about Rickie Fowler? Will He Ever Win a Major?

An argument can be made that Fowler was just too cautious over the weekend and yesterday in-particular but I think a lot of that was down to a lack of belief in his game. He played really well on Thursday but his iron-play was largely poor after that. He missed 13 more greens during the week than the winner (49 to 62 hit) and he would have been sunk without trace had he not played the par fives better than anyone else in 11-under-par.

I understand why his attitude is being questioned but I just don't think he played well enough over the last three days to win and it's as simple as that.

We've got the Open Championship at Birkdale next month so he has another chance to break his duck soon but at a bigger price I prefer Matsuyama. Putting has been holding Hideki back but he's found his rhythm with the flat-stick of late and he's arguably now the best player not to have won a major.


Is Xander Schauffele a Future US Open Winner?

It was impossible not to be impressed with the way Xander Schauffele hung around last week and he could well be one to keep an eye on in future US Opens given nobody played the par fours better than him.

As already eluded to above, previous US Open form is a big plus in this major and the 23-year-old Californian's debut was extremely impressive.

That's more than enough looking back when we've got two great events to look forward to. We have the BMW International Open on the European Tour at the Travelers Championship in the States and I'll be back tomorrow with my previews.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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