June 18, 2018 / 5:34 AM / in 4 months

Golf-Fleetwood experiences agony and ecstasy after Sunday surge

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y., June 17 (Reuters) - Tommy Fleetwood fired a U.S. Open record-tying seven-under-par 63 on Sunday to rocket up the leaderboard but the Briton’s final round surge came up agonisingly short when he finished just one stroke behind champion Brooks Koepka.

The Englishman’s initial challenge wilted in the brutal conditions on Saturday when he dropped five shots in four holes to start his back nine but when the USGA watered the Shinnecock Hills course overnight, Fleetwood knew a low score was possible.

“I honestly never really thought I was out of it,” Fleetwood told reporters after his round. “I just needed a good start. You never know what’s going to happen.”

The 27-year-old Englishman started his final round six shots off the lead after a demoralising eight-over-par 78 on Saturday meant he would tee off two-and-a-half hours before the leaders had even set foot on the course.

Fleetwood started well with four birdies in seven holes before a bogey on the par-four ninth checked his progress by the time he reached the turn.

However, the back-nine that had proved so costly 24 hours earlier was far more inviting on Sunday and he charged into contention with four straight birdies from the 12th but missed three more chances to pick up shots over his closing holes.

“I had a chance to make history but I wouldn’t do anything differently,” Fleetwood told Golf Digest after failing to sink a nine-footer at the last that would have given him a U.S. Open outright record round of 62.

“Yes, I’d love to hit the putts on 16 and 18 again. But I hit the putts I wanted, and I’m not going to say I should have done this or that,” he added.

“Shooting 62 was actually more in my mind than where we were in the tournament coming down the last few holes. So it feels strange to be a little disappointed to have shot 63. But it’s been a great day and to equal the record is very special.”

NO REGRETS

His 63 was the sixth in U.S. Open history and came at the end of a roller-coaster week for Fleetwood, who sandwiched an impressive four-under 66 on Friday between an opening 75 and Saturday’s eight-over horror show.

“I’ve done a lot this week,” Fleetwood added. “With five holes to play yesterday (Saturday) I was eight over par for the round and playing really badly.

“Then I made some great putts and some great up-and-downs. I shot the round of the day on Friday. I did so many good things it is difficult to look back with regret over one shot.”

Fleetwood, easily recognisable by his distinctive straggly long hair and facial stubble, has four wins on the European Tour and topped the circuit’s order of merit last season but has yet to taste success on American soil.

He finished fourth at last year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills and his performance this week suggests both a major breakthrough or PGA Tour victory are well within his grasp.

“This my highest finish in a major and more proof that I can get up there in the biggest events,” he added. (Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O’Brien)

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