Sports · June 20, 2022

At the US Open, Matt Fitzpatrick wins his first major championship

BROOKLINE, Mass. – This year’s US Open began as the backdrop for an unprecedented showdown between golfers who had remained loyal to the established PGA Tour and a breakaway group of former colleagues who recently joined the new rebel series LIV Backed Golf by the Saudis. But the expected confrontation at the Country Club outside Boston vanished in the first round Thursday, when golfers from both courses got along smoothly.

Even players aligned with LIV Golf quickly vanished from contention.

By Sunday, the ongoing split in men’s professional golf had just been resolved, but it was overshadowed by a gripping final round shootout between three of the sport’s best young players: Matt Fitzpatrick, 27, from England, and 25, from America. Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler.

Eventually, Fitzpatrick, who won the US Amateur at the Country Club nine years ago, he survived the crucible, claiming his first victory in a major golf championship and the PGA Tour with a fourth round 68 that made him six under par for the tournament. Fitzpatrick earned $ 3.15 million for the win.

Zalatoris and Scheffler finished one shot back.

The pivotal moment, as is common in major leagues, came when Fitzpatrick stood on the last tee of the four-day 72-hole tournament while leading by one stroke. Known for his meticulous accuracy – for many years he traced the finite details and the result of every shot he hit in competition – Fitzpatrick had only missed two fairways at that point in his round.

But his wood 3 on the 18th 444-yard, par-4 hole was ripped left and landed in the center of a yawning bunker just off the fairway. His ball was 156 yards from the hole, which was positioned on a plateau green protected at the front by a cavernous bunker that has ruined many rounds of golf for decades.

As Fitzpatrick later said, all year he had struggled to hit competent shots out of fairway bunkers.

“It’s the one place I didn’t want to be – No. 1 on that list,” Fitzpatrick said.

But Fitzpatrick, who drew for fifth place at last month’s PGA Championship and 14th at this year’s Masters Tournament, has extensive elite golf experience. Also, he felt comfortable with him all week as he only had happy memories of competing at the Country Club due to his 2013 US Amateurs victory.

“I’m a fast player, and when I look back, it all happened so fast,” he said of his second shot in 18th. “It was like letting natural ability take over.”

He took a 9 iron out of his bag and imagined he was a junior player again.

“I thought: try to hit him close,” Fitzpatrick said, smiling.

The shot went up over the dangerous high lip of the bunker it was in and over the crest of the vast bunker guarding the 18th green.

“It was great to watch,” said Fitzpatrick, who knew in that instant that he would almost certainly make a par, which he did with two cautious putts.

Zalatoris, Fitzpatrick’s playmate, made a 14-foot birdie putt at No. 18 which would have established a playoff. But the putt has moved less than an inch to the left of the hole.

The victory, which was Fitzpatrick’s first on American soil (he has won seven international events), could be a turning point for a quiet and popular player on the close-knit professional golf circuit. Over the past year, Fitzpatrick, now No. 10 in the men’s golf world rankings, he has worked tirelessly off the court to increase his swing speed, which leads to greater distance, and usually lower scores. Quiet and unassuming, Fitzpatrick also has an easy smile that hides a fierce competitive streak.

Late on Sunday evening, Fitzpatrick admitted this.

“Even if it doesn’t seem like it, because I like to be quite reserved, I love to beat everyone,” he said. “It’s that simple. He loves to win. I want to beat everyone.”

While Saturday’s third round was played with gusts of wind that made the greens firm and fast – and produced only seven rounds under par – Sunday conditions were favorable in comparison.

As a result, the course could be more aggressive, especially if a tee shot landed on the fairway.

Zalatoris started the day tied for the lead with Fitzpatrick four-under par, but faltered early when he put three 67-foot puts under the second hole for a bugbear. Then, on the next hole, he sent his second shot into a greenside bunker, which resulted in a second consecutive bandit. But Zalatoris rarely appeared shaken. He stabilized with three consecutive pars and at the par-3, sixth hole from 158 yards, he punched his tee shot 2 feet from the flag for easy birdie. Zalatoris’s approach shot at the 164-yard par-4 seventh green jumped onto the green and rolled just an inch to the left of the hole. His birdie tap-in brought him back to four under par for the round. When Zalatoris sank a 17-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, he made the turn five-under par, just one shot behind Fitzpatrick.

After a steady par on the 10th hole, Zalatoris played smart and confidently on the downhill par-3 eleventh hole, which was playing just 108 yards on Sunday (with a vilely difficult left rear hole position). Zalatoris left his tee shot under the hole and rolled into an 18-foot putt to allow the birdie to move to six-under-par, which gave him the tournament advantage at the time. But a missed fairway on tee 12 resulted in a layup before the green and eventually a bogey.

After seeing Zalatoris return to five-under par, Fitzpatrick attacked. Standing above a 48-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole, he rolled a meandering putt, left to right, slowly but confidently into the hole to equalize Zalatoris.

Like everyone at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, the Fitzpatrick round had its inconsistencies. He started strong with three par and two birdies in his first five holes. But his tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole was excessively long, sailing 66 feet beyond the hole, which resulted in a bandit. Fitzpatrick recovered with a comfortable birdie on the eighth par-5 but like many on Sunday he was unable to sustain the positive momentum. He tripped on the tenth hole when a long second shot went below the green and led to another bandit. Then the tiny 11th tormented Fitzpatrick when a 7-foot par putt slid over the hole for a second consecutive bandit.

Scheffler appeared to take the lead of the tournament on Saturday with a sparkling first nine, but then returned it all with a series of bogeys on the back nine. On Sunday, Scheffler made up the top nine again, with four birdies in the first six holes.

But Scheffler’s putt left him on the back nine when he blocked the 10th and 11th holes when he needed three putts to get his ball into the hole on both greens. This brought him to four below par for the tournament. Scheffler remained in the battle albeit with five successive pars from the 12th to the 16th hole.