It was everything you wanted in a U.S. Open, unless you were in fact the actual players making the bogeys on the finishing stretch. The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., is hard enough on a normal afternoon. Now throw in U.S. Open conditions, Sunday nerves and major-tournament pressure.
Leads didn’t last. The best in the world looked mortal. Three-putts ruined rounds and drives in the fairway — bypassing that gnarly, thick rough — were ever so precious.
It was a proper U.S. Open, the saying goes, and it was Matt Fitzpatrick who outlasted them all, riding elite ball-striking and a clutch putter to his first major title of his career. And, ironically enough (or not?), it happened on the same course he won a U.S. Amateur title on back in 2013.
“Obviously the expectations were for me to play well, but I feel like having won the U.S. Amateur here as well, I just felt so comfortable around this place,” Fitzpatrick said. “Know where to hit it; know where to miss it. Yeah, just happy to be unbeaten around this place.”
The 27-year-old Englishman closed with a two-under 68 to finish six under overall, besting Will Zalatoris (69) and Scottie Scheffler (67) by one.
It was an otherworldly ball-striking round from Fitzpatrick, who hit 17 of 18 greens, including the final one when his drive found the bunker and he needed a clutch out to preserve his one-stroke lead. Fitzpatrick had won seven times on the DP World Tour (previously the European Tour), but this was his first professional victory on American soil.
It was a big one, complete with the largest winner’s share in major championship history — $3.15 million.
Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris started the day tied for the lead at five under. Both entered the week with plenty of game but zero PGA Tour victories. They had thoroughbreds chasing them — Jon Rahm, Scheffler and Rory McIlroy, to name a few — but soon it became a three-horse race between the two overnight leaders and Scheffler, who teed off two pairings ahead of them.
Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, birdied the first two holes to tie the lead and went on to birdie four of the first six. He turned in four-under 31, one ahead of Fitzpatrick.
But Scheffler, who was attempting to be the only World No. 1 not named Tiger Woods to win the Open, bogeyed 10 after he failed to get up and down from a bunker, and bogeyed the 11th after three-putting. He dropped to four under as the Zalatoris-Fitzpatrick see-saw battle heated up behind him.
Playing the 108-yard par-3 11th — a new addition to a Brookline U.S. Open — Zalatoris rolled in an 18-footer for birdie, and Fitzpatrick three-putted from 17 feet for a two-shot swing. Zalatoris gave one back with a missed fairway and bogey at 12, setting the stage for Fitzpatrick to put a jolt through the gallery when he drained an unlikely birdie from about 50 feet on 13. Zalatoris found more trouble off the tee on 13 and had to punch out, but he made a clutch 12-foot par save on top of Fitzpatrick’s birdie to keep it a tie at five under.
It was around this time that Hideki Matsuyama finished up the lowest round of the week, a bogey-free 65, capping off a stretch of 30 holes without a blemish on his scorecard. He was in the house at three under, two behind the current leaders. The number was set.
Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick both parred 14 but found the rough on 15. Fitzpatrick hit the green but Zalatoris landed in a bunker and made bogey. Fitzpatrick drained his birdie putt from 19 feet for a two-shot lead.
“I just felt like I could keep hitting the greens and giving myself putts, my putting would take over and I’d make a couple coming in,” Fitzpatrick said. “Fortunately that’s what I did.”
It was nine years earlier, on this same course, that Fitzpatrick won the U.S. Amateur. Now he was searching for another trophy in the Boston area.
Up ahead, Scheffler, could only muster five straight pars after his bogey-bogey start to the back nine. But on the short par-3 17th he had just 80 yards in for an approach and, after a quick jog up to the green to check out the pin, stuck it to six feet and made his putt to get to within one.
Fitzpatrick parred the 16th as Zalatoris answered with a birdie to tie Scheffler at five under, one back. Scheffler had a chance to tie Fitzpatrick with a birdie on 18, but he couldn’t convert his 23-footer.
After pars on 17, Fitzpatrick went to the 18th leading Zalatoris and Scheffler, the new clubhouse leader, by one. Then it got interesting, one last time. Fitzpatrick found the fairway bunker off the tee — just the third fairway he missed all day — but worked a cut around an edge of the bunker and stuck it to 18 feet away.
“Matt’s shot on 18 is going to be shown probably for the rest of U.S. Open history,” Zalatoris said. “I walked by it, and I thought that going for it was going to be ballsy, but the fact that he pulled it off and even had a birdie look was just incredible.”
Fitzpatrick, who admitted he’d been struggling with his fairway bunker play, hit a 9-iron. He said the lie forced him to go away from the pin.
“It just all happened so fast. It was like just kind of natural ability took over and just played the shot that was at hand, if I was a junior trying to hit it close,” Fitzpatrick said. “And I didn’t mean to do that, but I just committed to the shot we kind of planned and came out of it squeezy fade. Yeah, it was amazing.”
It was an easy two-putt par for Fitzpatrick. Zalatoris had a good birdie look to tie him and force a playoff, but he ran it just by the left edge.
“With about six feet to go, I thought I had it,” Zalatoris said.
Incredulous, Zalatoris crouched down and put his hands on his head. For Fitzpatrick, the celebration was just beginning, and at The Country Club once more.