Golf

PGA: Justin Thomas wins Boston for fifth title of the season

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PGA: Justin Thomas wins Boston for fifth title of the season

NORTON, Mass. -- The victories keep piling up for Justin Thomas, and all that does is make him want more.

In a Labor Day finish that was harder than the final margin suggested, Thomas kept his patience when Jordan Spieth shot out to a brief lead and Marc Leishman built a two-shot lead at the turn. Keeping his mistakes to a minimum, Thomas outlasted them both by closing with a 5-under 66 for a three-shot victory in the Dell Technologies Championship.

He started the PGA Tour season at No. 34 in the world with all of one PGA Tour victory.

Thomas won for the fifth time Monday, including his first major three weeks ago at the PGA Championship. He is No. 4 in the world. And barring Spieth running the tables the rest of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the 24-year-old Thomas would seem to be a lock to be voted PGA Tour player of the year.

"I have two events left. I have two more opportunities to win," Thomas said. "And I'd love to make it six or seven wins."

Thomas made only two bogeys all week, the last one putting him in a three-way tie with seven holes to play. He won on the back nine at TPC Boston with a sand wedge he gouged out of the rough to 6 feet on No. 13, a gap wedge to 4 feet on No. 15 for another birdie, and a 6-foot par save that kept him two shots clear.

Spieth wasted a start that riled up the New England crowd - birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie - by missing the 14th green with a 5-iron for bogey. Needing an eagle to stay in the game on the par-5 18th, Spieth pushed a 4-iron into a tough lie in the bunker, blasted over the green and made bogey for a 67.

Spieth was runner-up for the second straight week in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He lost a three-shot lead to Dustin Johnson on Long Island. There wasn't much he could have done to stop Thomas, his best friend in golf since they were teenagers.

"Came out firing, like I said we had to do," Spieth said. "Eight through 14 is the meat of the golf course. You want to get through even. I got through over par and didn't get any coming in when I hit some good putts."

Spieth still moved to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup with one more event before the $10 million prize is decided at the Tour Championship.

Leishman shot 30 on the front to build a two-shot lead, only for it to vanish quickly. He had to save bogey on No. 10 after an errant drive. He three-putted from long range for bogey on the 11th. He found a bunker on the 12th for a third straight bogey. And then he closed with two bogeys that only cost him money. Leishman shot 70.

Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world coming off his fourth victory of the season last week, started the final round three shots behind and was one of the few players who was never in contention. He took two to get out of a fairway bunker and made bogey on the par-5 second hole, and he closed with a 73 to finish 10 behind.

Spieth was simply dynamic at the start. He didn't need to make a putt longer than 12 feet to go 5 under for the opening four holes and briefly take the lead. Leishman, who won at Bay Hill in March, kept stride with six birdies on the front nine to match Spieth's 30 and move in front.

Thomas did his part to stay in the game.

He could hear the crowd celebrating Spieth's short birdie on the fourth hole, and then Thomas belted a low slider of a drive that barely cleared the deep bunker, hit into the shaggy collar and hopped onto the fringe. He holed that 30-footer for an eagle, and the race was on.

Phil Mickelson birdied three of his opening four holes. He couldn't keep pace. Neither could Jon Rahm or Paul Casey.

The final round was so tight that Thomas, Spieth and Leishman were tied for the lead with seven holes to play. But then it all changed when Spieth missed the green at No. 14, did well to hit a flop shot to 15 feet and narrowly missed his par putt.

Thomas steadied himself after his lone bogey on the par-3 11th. Equipped with a one-shot lead because of Spieth's bogey, Thomas hit a sand wedge to 4 feet on the 15th for a birdie and a two-shot lead. Equally important was his pitch out of deep rough to the right of the 16th to a green that ran away from him. He managed to hit it 6 feet and twice clutched his fist when it dropped for par.

Spieth grazed the edge of the cup with a 10-foot birdie attempt on the 17th, and then lost all hope with his approach into the bunker.

It was the first time Spieth has finished runner-up to Thomas, his best friend in golf since they were teenagers.

Kevin Chappell bogeyed his last hole and still managed to nudge Charley Hoffman by a fraction of a point to earn the 10th and final automatic spot on the U.S. team for the Presidents Cup.

Stewart Cink closed with a 68 to finish 12th, more than enough for him to advance to the third FedEx Cup playoff event outside Chicago for the first time in seven years. Emiliano Grillo and Rafa Cabrera Bello also moved into the top 70 to advance to the BMW Championship in two weeks.

Brooks Koepka repeats as U.S. Open champion

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AP Photo

Brooks Koepka repeats as U.S. Open champion

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - Brooks Koepka has the game to win a U.S. Open on any course.

One year after Koepka overpowered the wide fairways of Erin Hills in a U.S. Open remembered for low scoring, he navigated his way through the brutal conditions of Shinnecock Hills and closed with a 2-under 68 to become the first repeat champion in 29 years.

Curtis Strange, the last player to go back-to-back in this major, watched the entire final round Sunday as the Fox Sports reporter on the ground, and they shared a brief hug off the 18th green after Koepka tapped in for bogey and a one-shot victory.

"Man, it feels good to hold this thing again," Koepka said with the silver trophy in his arms.

His victory Sunday might not have been possible if not for grinding out a 72 on Saturday in conditions so severe the last 45 players to tee off in the third round didn't break par. The USGA conceded the course was over the top and pledged to give it more water and slow it down.

Bogeys gave way to birdies, and no one took advantage like Tommy Fleetwood of England. He made eight birdies - none on the two par 5s - and missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 63, only the sixth player in U.S. Open history to go that low.

"Yeah, but I wanted a 62," said Fleetwood, who finished one shot back and had to settle for the silver medal.

Fleetwood was one shot behind when he finished, and Koepka still had 11 holes to play as Shinnecock Hills began to get crisp under another sunny sky.

Koepka never lost the lead.

With a putting performance and calm demeanor reminiscent of Retief Goosen when he won the previous U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, in 2004, the 28-year-old Koepka began the back nine with three pivotal putts - one for birdie, one for bogey, one for par.

The biggest might have been his bogey on the nasty little par-3 11th.

Koepka pulled it to the left, down the slope and into thick grass. He chopped that up the slope with so much speed that it raced across the green and into the bunker. He blasted that out to 8 feet and made the putt to keep his lead at one shot.

"I think that was like making a birdie, maybe even making an eagle," he said. "Because it could have been a big momentum shift there, and we could have been playing tennis just going back and forth. To make bogey there was pretty incredible and I think kind of the reason why we won."

He wasn't through. He hacked out of the hay over the green at No. 12, pitched beautifully to 7 feet and made the par. Two holes later, after another drive into grass so thick he wasn't sure he could get it out, Koepka rolled in an 8-foot for another par save.

Koepka seized control with a wedge to 3 1/2 feet for birdie on the par-5 16th for a two-shot lead, and he never flinched until it no longer mattered. Koepka pulled his approach to the 18th off the grandstand, pitched on to about 12 feet and two-putted for a bogey.

He finished at 1-over 281, 13 shots higher than his winning score at Erin Hills last year. It was the first time since 2013 at Merion that no one broke par in the U.S. Open.

"I enjoy the test," Koepka said. "I enjoy being pushed to the limit. Sometimes you feel like you are about to break mentally, but that's what I enjoy. I enjoy hard golf courses. I enjoy playing about the toughest in golf you are ever going to play."

That it was, starting on Thursday, and especially on Saturday.

Koepka opened with a 75, the highest first-round score by a U.S. Open champion since Raymond Floyd at Shinnecock Hills in 1986. He was 7 over for the championship through seven holes of the second round when he ran off six birdies for a 66 to get back in the game.

Dustin Johnson, part of the four-way tie for the lead to start the final round, couldn't keep up with one of his best friends. Johnson was one shot behind at the turn until a trio of three-putt bogeys on the back nine. A birdie on the final hole gave him an even-par 70 to finish alone in third and remain No. 1 in the world.

Koepka moved to a career-best No. 4 in the world ranking.

A year ago, Johnson called him on the eve of the final round to offer advice. On Sunday, they were playing side-by-side without exchanging words, each trying to play a course that was considerably softer than the previous day.

"We didn't really speak too much," Koepka said. "He was busy grinding his tail off and I was busy grinding mine. We're extremely close. I love the guy to death. It would have been fun to dual it out with him coming down the end, having to make some putts."

Only one of them did, which is why Koepka is the U.S. Open champion.

Americans have won the last five majors - all of them in their 20s - and Koepka joined an elite group as only the seventh player to go back-to-back in what is regarded as golf's toughest test. Next up is Pebble Beach, and a chance to join Willie Anderson as the only player to win three in a row. Anderson won his third straight in 1905. Ben Hogan won three straight that he played, missing in 1949 after nearly getting killed when his car struck a bus.

Masters champion Patrick Reed flirted with the second leg of the Grand Slam. He was tied for the lead when he ran off five birdies in his opening seven holes. Reed spent too much time in the high grass on the back nine and closed with a 68 to finish fourth.
 

© 2018 by The Associated Press. 


 

Patrick Reed wins first major title, holding off Fowler at Masters

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Patrick Reed wins first major title, holding off Fowler at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The tepid applause that greeted Patrick Reed on the first tee made it clear he wasn't the people's choice.

All he cared about was being the Masters champion.

He turned back an early move by Rory McIlroy and a late charge by Rickie Fowler. Most daunting in the middle of the final round Sunday was a familiar name at Augusta National - Jordan Spieth - on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history.

Reed had the game and the grit to beat them all. And when he slipped on that green jacket, he had everyone's respect.

"I knew it was going to be a dogfight," Reed said. "It's just a way of God basically saying, `Let's see if you have it.' Everyone knows you have it physically with the talent. But do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?"

He has proven that playing for his country. He did it Sunday for himself.

The final test was a 25-foot putt down the scary slope on the 18th green, and Reed pressed down both hands, begging it to stop as it rolled 3 feet by. From there, the 27-year-old Texan calmly rolled in the par putt for a 1-under 71 and a one-shot victory.

Known as "Captain America" for his play in the Ryder Cup, Reed added a far more important title: Masters champion.

The loudest cheers were for everyone else, and Reed picked up on that right away. The crowd was squarely behind McIlroy and his best chance yet at completing the career Grand Slam. Then it was Spieth, running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to challenge the course record. The loudest cheer was for Fowler when he made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole to pull within one.

Reed never flinched through it all.

"I just went out there and just tried to play golf the best I could and tried to stay in the moment and not worry about everything else," Reed said.

Reed, who finished at 15-under 273, won for the sixth time in his PGA Tour career.

Until Sunday, he was best known for the trophies he shared at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He is ferocious in match play, especially the team variety, and his singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine in the 2016 Ryder Cup led to his nickname.

"He's not scared. I think you guys have seen that previous from the Ryder Cups and the way he plays," said Fowler, who closed with a 67. "He won't back down. I don't necessarily see him as someone that backs up and will let you come back into the tournament. You have to go catch him."

Fowler did his best with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, and the 8-footer on the final hole. It still wasn't enough. Fowler was runner-up for the third time in a major. He left the scoring cabin when Reed tapped in for par.

"Glad I at least made the last one, make him earn it," Fowler said with a grin as he waited to greet the newest major champion.

"You had to do it didn't you?" Reed told him as they exchanged a hug. "You had to birdie the last."

Spieth put up the most unlikely fight and was on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history. He started nine shots behind going into the final round, and was inches away on two shots from a chance at another green jacket.

His tee shot on the 18th clipped the last branch in his way, dropping his ball some 267 yards from the green. His 8-foot par putt for a record-tying 63 narrowly missed on the right. He had to settle for a 64.

"I think I've proven to myself and to others that you never give up," Spieth said. "I started the round nine shots back and I came out with the idea of just playing the golf course and having a lot of fun doing it and try to shoot a low round and finish the tournament strong and see what happens, if something crazy happens."

McIlroy, meanwhile, will have to wait another year for a shot at the career Grand Slam.

Trailing by three shots to start the final round, he closed to within one shot after two holes. That was as close as he came. McIlroy's putter betrayed him - he missed four putts inside 10 feet on the front nine - and he was never a factor on the back nine. He closed with a 74 and tied for fifth.

"Tough day, but I'll be back," McIlroy said. "And hopefully, I'll be better."

Reed is old-school among his generation, with a brash attitude and a willingness to speak his mind. He has never been terribly popular in this state, mainly because of allegations of bad behavior while playing for Georgia that led to an early departure from the Bulldogs. He transferred to Augusta State and led the outmanned Jaguars to a pair of NCAA titles. His parents live in Augusta, but were not at the tournament. They weren't at his wedding in 2012, a relationship Reed chooses not to discuss.

"I'm just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments," Reed said.

He won a big one Sunday, and it was hard work, just the way he likes it.

Different about this victory for Reed was the fuchsia shirt he wore as part of a Nike script. Reed always wears black pants and a red shirt because that's what Tiger Woods does, and Reed has long modeled his mental game after Woods. "Be stubborn," he once said about learning by watching Woods.

Woods broke par for the first time all week with a 69. He tied for 32nd, 16 shots behind, in his first major since the 2015 PGA Championship.

Reed went to the back nine with a four-shot lead over four players, and they all had their chances. That included Jon Rahm, the 23-year-old from Spain, whose chances ended when he went after the flag on the par-5 15th and came up short in the water. He shot 69 and finished fourth.

Reed made a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 12, and his biggest birdie was a 9-iron to 8 feet on the 14th that broke the tie with Spieth. He made all pars from there. That was all he needed.

He became the fourth straight Masters champion to capture his first major.

Reed once claimed after winning a World Golf Championship at Doral that he was a top 5 player in the world, which subjected him to ridicule because it was only his third career title. His first major moves him to No. 11. It also comes with a green jacket, which is worth far more notoriety, not to mention respect.