Matt Fitzpatrick wins his first major championship at US Open

BROOKLINE, Massachusetts. – This year’s US Open began as the site of an unprecedented showdown between golfers who have remained loyal to the established PGA Tour and a splinter group of former colleagues who have recently joined a new, rebellious Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf series. But an expected confrontation at a country club outside of Boston fell through in the first round on Thursday, with golfers from both camps getting along without friction.

Players associated with LIV Golf also retired from competition early.

By Sunday, the ongoing rift in men’s professional golf had barely been patched up, but it was overshadowed by a thrilling final round shootout between three of the sport’s best young players: England’s 27-year-old Matt Fitzpatrick and the 25-year-old Americans. Will Zalatoris and Scotty Sheffler.

After all, Fitzpatrick, who won US Amateur Championship at a country club nine years ago, survived the crucible with his first major golf championship win and the PGA Tour, scoring 68 points in the fourth round, making him six under par for the tournament. Fitzpatrick earned $3.15 million for the win.

Zalatoris and Scheffler finished one shot back.

The turning point, as is usually the case in major championships, came when Fitzpatrick stood on the last tee of the four-day, 72-hole tournament, leading by one stroke. Known for his meticulous accuracy – he recorded the final details and the result of every shot he threw in competition for many years – Fitzpatrick had missed only two fairways in his round to this point.

But his 3-wood on the 444-yard par-4 18th hole was ripped to the left and landed in the center of a gaping bunker near the fairway. His ball was 156 yards from the hole, located on a flat green protected in front by a cavernous bunker that ruined many golfers’ rounds for decades.

As Fitzpatrick later said, he struggled all year to make good shots from fairway bunkers.

“This is the only place I didn’t want to be – No. 1 on this list,” Fitzpatrick said.

But Fitzpatrick, who finished fifth at the PGA Championship last month and 14th at the Masters Tournament this year, has a wealth of elite golf experience. What’s more, he felt comfortable all week as he only had happy memories of competing at the Country Club due to his 2013 U.S. Amateur Championship 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 pulled an iron 9 out of his bag and pretended he was a junior again.

“I thought, try to get closer,” Fitzpatrick said, smiling.

The shot flew over the dangerously high edge of the bunker he was in and over the crest of the huge bunker guarding the 18th Lawn.

“It was amazing to watch,” said Fitzpatrick, who knew at the time that he would almost certainly par, which he did with two careful strokes.

Zalatoris, Fitzpatrick’s playing partner, hit a 14-foot birdie at number 1.18, which would have secured a playoff run. But the putt had moved less than an inch to the left of the hole.

The victory, which is Fitzpatrick’s first on American soil (he has won seven international tournaments), could be a breakthrough for the quiet and popular player in the circle of close-knit professional golfers. Last year Fitzpatrick, now No. Ranked 10th in the men’s world golf rankings, worked tirelessly off the course to increase his swing speed, resulting in longer distances and usually lower results. Quiet and unassuming, Fitzpatrick also has a slight smile that hides a fierce competitive streak.

Late Sunday night, Fitzpatrick acknowledged this.

“Although it’s not audible, because I like to be quite restrained, I just love to hit everyone,” he said. “It is so simple. I just love to win. I want to defeat everyone.”

While Saturday’s third round was played in gusty winds that made the green hard and fast – and only produced seven under par – Sunday’s conditions were favorable by comparison.

As a result, the field could be more aggressive, especially if the tee shot hit the fairway.

Zalatoris started the day shared the lead with Fitzpatrick for four under par, but faltered early when he hit three shots from 67 feet below the second hole, receiving a bogey. Then, on the next hole, he hit his second green bunker, resulting in a second ghost in a row. But Zalatoris rarely seemed flustered. He stabilized with three straight pars, and on the sixth par-3 hole, 158 yards, he drilled his tee shot 2 feet from the light birdie flag. Zalatoris’ approach to the seventh par-4 green from 164 yards overshot the green and rolled just an inch off the hole. His crane birdie brought him back four under par for the tournament. When Zalatoris hit a 17-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, he made a five-under turn, just one shot behind Fitzpatrick.

After a steady par on the 10th hole, Zalatoris operated sensibly and safely downhill on par-3 hole 11, which only played 108 yards on Sunday (with a sneaky tight back left hole placement). Zalatoris left his tee shot under the hole and hit an 18-foot shot to move the birdie six under par, giving him the tournament lead at the time. But a missed fairway from the 12th tee led to off-green downtime and ultimately dismay.

Seeing Zalatoris drop to five below par, Fitzpatrick attacked. Standing over a 48-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole, he slowly but surely rolled a twisting left-to-right shot into the hole to tie Zalatoris.

Like everyone at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, Fitzpatrick had his inadequacies. He started well with three par and two birdies on the first five holes. But his tee shot on the sixth par-3 hole was too long, going 66 feet over the hole, resulting in a scarecrow. Fitzpatrick rallied with a handy birdie on the eighth pair of 5 but, like many on Sunday, he failed to keep up the momentum. He stumbled on the 10th hole when a long second shot missed the green and led to another horror. Then a tiny 11th tormented Fitzpatrick as the 7-foot doubles slid wide of the hole for a second consecutive bogey.

Scheffler appeared to take the team lead in the tournament on Saturday with a brilliant front nine, but then played it all back with a string of ghosts in the back nine. On Sunday, Scheffler again split the top nine with four birds on the first six holes.

But Scheffler’s way shot left him in the back nine as he spooked the 10th and 11th holes when he needed three putts to putt the ball into the hole on both greens. This dropped him four under par for the tournament. Scheffler stayed in the fight, albeit with five straight pairs from holes 12 to 16.