PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Considering his tee shot almost buried into shrubbery and he had to hit the next shot from off the cart path, Brooks Koepka couldn’t have been too unhappy with a par to close out his day at Pebble Beach.
Like almost everything about his first round at the U.S. Open, though, he could’ve done even better.
Koepka’s closing par Thursday wrapped up a round of 2-under 69 – certainly nothing that would drop him out of the conversation for a third straight U.S. Open title.
But when you open the day by making one birdie from a fairway divot, then another with a chip-in from the rough … and when the ball on 18 careens off the shrubbery and back onto the cart path … and when you pure that shot off the cart path, then hit the next one to 5 feet … well, it’s hard not to feel like maybe you didn’t take full advantage of all the good fortune.
“I would have liked to have shot a couple more” under par, Koepka said. “But considering how I hit it coming in, I’m pretty pleased. Two-under, I didn’t shoot myself out of it. I’m right there.”
He was four shots behind Justin Rose, who matched the best U.S. Open score at Pebble Beach with a 65.
It looked as if the deficit might be bigger after Koepka blocked his tee shot so far right on No. 18 that it bounced off the cart path and bounded around dangerously near a row of 6-foot-high shrubs that guard a lawn off the right side of the hole. “Oh, really,” Koepka said, as the ball flirted with out of bounds.
A fan bent down to pick up the ball, but a marshal stopped her. Koepka, who missed about two months last year, including the 2018 Masters, with a wrist injury, examined the shot and told caddie Ricky Elliott he’d rather play the ball off the path than take his chances with a drop into the trampled grass.
The player who is building a career by making the tough stuff look easy – two U.S. Opens and two PGA titles on brutish courses over the last two years – clipped the shot off the cart path to 60 yards away in the fairway, then fired a wedge for what looked like an easy birdie putt. But he left the ball under the hole and settled for a par.
“Spin it that way, how lucky it was to stay in,” Koepka said of the tee shot. “(But) I should have made birdie there.”
He made four birdies over the first six holes, including one after knocking a wedge from out of a divot to 12 feet to open with a birdie, then another with the chip-in from above the hole in the rough on the par-3 fifth.
He made bogey on No. 8 when he tugged a 9-iron from the middle of the fairway into the left rough. He did well to save bogey on 13 after a catching the lip of a fairway bunker that left him 115 yards out in the rough. He saved par on 16 after a mediocre approach shot put him in thick grass on a hill above the green.
As for that final hole – well it could’ve been better, but could’ve been much worse.
Sort of like the day, in general.
“I try to find some positive, even when something negative happens,” Koepka said. “Eighteen. How lucky was that?”
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