BROOKLINE, Massachusetts (AP) — England’s Matt Fitzpatrick is once again champion at The Country Club, this time with the biggest golf trophy.
A US Amateur champion in 2013. The US Open champion Sunday.
In a three-way fight at Brookline that came to the end, Fitzpatrick seized control with a great break and an even better shot on the 15th hole for a two-shot swing. He was just as clutch out of a fairway bunker on the 18th setting up par for a 2-under 68.
The win was not secure until Will Zalatoris, who fights back brilliantly after every mistake, fell to his knees when his 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th slipped just down the left side of the cup. Zalatoris, who finished with a 69, was second in the second major in a row.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler never recovered from back-to-back bogeys to start the back nine that cost him the lead. He had a 25 foot birdie chance on the 18th that he just missed, leaving him one with a 67.
Along with the $3.15 million prize, Fitzpatrick had that gold Jack Nicklaus medal draped around his neck, which was only fitting.
Fitzpatrick is the second man to win a US Amateur and a US Open on the same course, along with Nicklaus, who pulled the trick at Pebble Beach. July Inkster won the US Women’s Amateur and US Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes.
Fitzpatrick, who played briefly with Northwestern before turning pro, won for the eighth time worldwide, and this was his first in America – a tournament everyone knows about, anyway. He won the member membership at The Bear’s Club in Florida early this year, the track that Nicklaus built.
“He mistreated me a bit at the beginning of the year. He said, ‘Finally. Congratulations on winning the United States,’ said Fitzpatrick.
And when he lifted the trophy slightly, Fitzpatrick sent Nicklaus a nice message: “Jack, I won a second time.”
It took a good pause, a signature shot and some guts at the end.
Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris were right on their way to 15th when the Englishman hit his tee shot so far to the right that it went into the gallery and found a decent berth on grass that was dead and trampled. Zalatoris missed only a few meters and was buried in deep grass.
He hit a 5-iron from 220 yards to 18 feet below the hole. Zalatoris entered the front bunker, shot out to 25 feet and bogeyed. Fitzpatrick took a two-shot lead when his birdie putt went into the cup at such a perfect pace that he didn’t even touch the pin he leaves behind in the cup.
Zalatoris bounced back again and took a hard pin on the par-3 16th to 7 feet for birdie to narrow the lead to one shot. Both missed 12-foot birdie opportunities on the 17th, then Fitzpatrick missed a fairway at the wrong time and pulled it to the left into a bunker with a steep section of rough right in front of him.
It looked like a playoff was imminent—the previous three US Opens at Brookline were all decided by a playoff—then Fitzpatrick fearlessly hit a fade with a 9-iron carrying the gaping bunker in front of the green and onto dropped 18 feet away.
He narrowly missed and could only watch as Zalatoris missed his last chance.
“Matt’s shot at 18 will likely be seen for the rest of US Open history,” said Zalatoris. “I walked past it and I thought it would be a breeze to go for it. But the fact that he pulled it off and even had a birdie look was just incredible.
“So hats off to him. He played great all week of course and gave a solid round today.”
Fitzpatrick finished 6-under 134.
Fitzpatrick, 27, the first Englishman since Justin Rose to win the US Open in 2013, felt his time was coming. He is meticulous about charting his shots and keeping track of them all to determine what needs to be done. And he emphasized speed in his swing over the past two years, giving him the height and faith to compete with anyone.
That didn’t make Sunday any easier, a three-man race from the start when Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy fell back and never got back into the mix.
Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris, who shared the 54-hole lead, each had a two-shot lead at one point.
Zalatoris, who lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas in the PGA Championship last month, recovered from two early bogeys. They tied when Zalatoris birdied 18 feet on the short par-3 11th, and Fitzpatrick three-putted for a bogey from the same range.
The 25-year-old from Dallas suddenly had a two-shot lead. He also couldn’t keep the ball in the fairway and that cost him a dropped shot at number 12. And then came another big turning point, with Fitzpatrick making a 50-foot birdie putt over the 13th green. Zalatoris did well to make his 15-footer for par and they headed for the exciting conclusion.
Scheffler was still hanging around in his bid for a second major this year, but everyone else became a distant memory. Hideki Matsuyama had the lowest round of the week at 65, but he finished 3-under 277, and that was never going to be good enough.
In the end, it was Fitzpatrick who shared hugs with his family on the green, including younger brother Alex, who cadded for him in the US Amateur and recently turned pro.
And there was his caddy, Billy Foster, one of the most popular long-acting loopers in Europe who had never bagged a major until Sunday.
“Billy said it for a while to keep doing what you’re doing and the opportunity will come,” Fitzpatrick said. “It did it, and I took it.”
Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, BC, who was the first round leader, finished in a tie for seventh place with 1-under. Mackenzie Hughes of Hamilton, Ontario finished in a tie for 24th place 4-over.
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