Brooks Koepka did everything he could to win a third straight U.S. Open. Sometimes everything is not enough, even for a man accustomed to seeing a different result with a similar effort.
Koepka’s amazing run in the national championship came to an end Sunday at Pebble Beach Golf Links when he rallied valiantly in the final round but couldn’t overtake Gary Woodland. The Florida native shot a final-round 68, but came up three strokes short of a record-tying third straight U.S. Open.
Willie Anderson, who won his third in a row in 1905, remains the only man with that distinction.
“I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all,” said Koepka, who finished at 10-under 274, the third-best score in U.S. Open history at Pebble Beach and the lowest not good enough to win it. “I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week – it happened at Augusta – it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there.”
Koepka, 29, was plenty good, just as he had been last year at Shinnecock Hills and two years ago at Erin Hills. The Florida native carded four rounds in the 60s at Pebble Beach, and when you throw in his final-round 68 at Shinnecock, Koepka became the first player in U.S. Open history to shoot five straight rounds in the 60s.
Unfortunately, he also became the first man in U.S. Open history to post four sub-70 rounds and not win the trophy.
“We all play to win,” said Rickie Fowler, one of Koepka’s Jupiter, Fla., neighbors. “Brooks has figured out how to execute at the right times, in the big events. He’s figured it out better than most of us.”
By one-putting the first five greens on Sunday, good for four birdies and a clutch par save at the second hole, Koepka raced off to a dream start and closed his four-stroke deficit to two strokes – only because Woodland countered with two early birdies of his own that proved crucial.
Koepka would get within one later after a birdie at the 11th and Woodland’s bogey at the ninth, but that birdie at 11 was his last of the day. Meanwhile, he failed to birdie any of the three par 5s.
“Obviously, Brooks got off to a great start,” said Woodland, who won his first major title. “And you knew he was going to come out. The conditions, the wind was down a little bit early in the round. You could play more aggressive. The first couple of holes he could attack, and he did that.”
Koepka still had one last chance to maybe tie Woodland or at least claw within a stroke when he belted two long shots on the par-5 18th hole to easily reach the green. His second shot from 229 yards bounded through the putting surface and into the thick rough behind. He left the tying eagle chip well short and then saw his 9-foot birdie try die on the right edge. He bent over, as if in pain, unfamiliar with the feeling of coming up short on Father’s Day for the first time since 2016.
Of the four men before him who had attempted to tie Anderson (Jones retired in 1931 and did not go for a third straight U.S. Open), Koepka came the closest. Before him, Ben Hogan posted the best finish by a two-time defending champion, coming in third in 1952.
“It was awesome to come this close to going three in a row,” said Koepka, who has finished first or second in his last four major starts dating to last year's PGA Championship. “It's incredible. Anytime you can compete in a major is special and to have a chance to go back-to-back-to-back, that was pretty cool. I didn't really think about it until I was done on 18 and realized how close I actually was to, not making history, but tying it, I guess you could say. But it's a cool feeling to know. Just wasn't meant to be this week.”