PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — It would be difficult to find fault with Brooks Koepka in his pursuit of history Sunday at Pebble Beach.
He birdied four of the first five holes, shot 3-under-par 68, and played like a guy trying to win a bet rather than the U.S. Open.
In the end, it simply wasn’t enough, as Koepka came up three shots short of Gary Woodland in his quest to win a third consecutive U.S. Open.
“It doesn’t sting,” said Koepka, who was bidding to join Willie Anderson (1903-05) as the only players to win three straight U.S. Opens. “I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. 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 paid tribute to Woodland, who led Justin Rose by two at the start of the day and was four ahead of Koepka. Woodland played the final five holes in 2 under par, making a miraculous save by chipping from the far side of the green at the 17th hole from 90 feet to within inches of the cup, then adding an exclamation-point birdie on the final green to finish at 13 under.
It means that Koepka, 29, has now finished first, tied for second, first and second in his past four major championships. He has four major titles dating to the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. He defended that title last year at Shinnecock Hills. He has since won two PGA Championships.
Koepka missed tying Tiger Woods by one shot at the Masters in April, with two decent birdie chances on the closing holes failing to drop after he had hit his ball in the water and made a double-bogey on the 12th earlier in the round at Augusta National.
On Sunday, he had the dream start to put pressure on Woodland — but managed just one more birdie the rest of the way and was unable to make birdies on either of the back-nine par-5s.
That meant he became the first player in U.S. Open history to shoot four rounds in the 60s and not win. Lee Trevino (1968), Lee Janzen (1993) and Rory McIlroy (2011) — with Woodland now also joining the list — are the only other players to have done so, and each won the tournament.
Koepka’s last hope appeared to be to make an eagle at the 18th hole — or at least a birdie to cut the advantage down to 1 shot with Woodland seemingly in trouble at the 17th.
But after a good drive, he couldn’t hold his 3-iron shot on the green, and his chip from in back came up 7 feet short. He missed the putt.
“At the time it felt significant,” Koepka said. “I felt like I had a good read on it. And it just seemed to just dive right across the front. I felt like it was one of those putts if I hit firm it was never going to break. And I tried. I hit a good putt. It just dove right across the front.
“Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. Of course I’d love to have it back. I thought it would be nice to put some pressure on him, one shot going into the last hole. I had no idea what was going on, but I’m pleased with it. Pleased with everything that happened.”
There was certainly no shame in finishing second. When Anderson won a third straight U.S. Open in 1905 at Myopia Hunt Club, he beat a field of just 78 players and won $200. The Scotsman shot scores of 81-80-76-77 to win his fourth U.S. Open overall.
Since World War II, only Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange had a chance to match that mark before Koepka, showing just how hard it is to capture even consecutive U.S. Opens. Hogan finished third in 1952 after winning in 1950 and 1951; Strange finished tied for 21st in 1990 after winning in 1988 and 1989.
“It was awesome to come this close to going three in a row,” Koepka said. “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 kind of, I guess, not making history, but kind of tying it, I guess you could say. But it’s a cool feeling to know. Just wasn’t meant to be this week.”