Matt Fitzpatrick fulfils his ‘dream’ to win first major in tense US Open finish
The world of professional golf will imminently return to a dismal domain involving Saudi Arabians bearing dollars, players defending the indefensible and commercial organisations scrapping for survival. There was extra cause to cherish this gripping finale to the penultimate men’s major of 2022. The Country Club delivered sport in its purest form and precisely when it was needed.
For Matt Fitzpatrick, a maiden major title. The Yorkshireman prevailed at the US Open on the very turf where he won the US Amateur nine years ago. This Sheffield United fanatic is Brookline’s Blade.
Fitzpatrick’s six under par held off Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler by one. That Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris played in the final group added to the sense that they were the ones directly jousting. Scheffler, the world No 1, was never far away.
Fitzpatrick was understandably elated. “It’s what you grow up dreaming of winning and I’ve worked so hard for such a long time,” he said. “I had the big monkey on my back of not winning in the United States. It was all everybody talked about and to do it in a major, there’s nothing better.”
A wobbly start by Zalatoris saw him play the first three holes in two over. Fitzpatrick and Scheffler, conversely, looked inspired. Fitzpatrick birdied the 3rd to take the lead at five under. Scheffler joined him with a birdie at the 5th. After Fitzpatrick drove the green at that same, short par four, he surged to minus six. Zalatoris at this point was four adrift.
Birdies for Zalatoris at the 7th and 9th hauled him to within one of Fitzpatrick and Scheffler as the putters of his two opponents suddenly turned cold.
A Zalatoris birdie at the short 11th meant a two-shot lead at six under. Yet with major championship frontrunning comes major championship pressure. He dropped a shot at the 12th and carved his drive into rough at the 13th, from where he could only chip sideways.
Drama followed. Fitzpatrick leaped with delight after converting a 50ft birdie putt. Unbowed, Zalatoris saved his par from a third of that distance. The duo were now tied at minus five, with Scheffler missing the opportunity to join the party up ahead at the par five 14th green.
Fitzpatrick raced a birdie attempt past the hole at the 14th but confidently rescued a five. Zalatoris agonisingly missed his chance for a four. In what had become a taut matchplay clash, these players were level at minus five with four to play. Scheffler’s four under was on the outside looking in.
Fitzpatrick’s drive at 15 was wide; but wide enough to find a decent position in turf trampled down by spectators. Zalatoris had no such luck, despite the fact that his tee shot was nowhere near as inaccurate as his playing partner. Fitzpatrick found the green, Zalatoris hit sand. A Zalatoris bogey was the natural outcome. Fitzpatrick’s birdie putt trickled to the bottom of the cup. Advantage Fitz, by two.
Enter Scheffler. A terrific approach to the 17th set up a birdie three, and cut Fitzpatrick’s lead to one. Zalatoris was not giving up, either, demonstrated by an iron into the 16th just 5ft from the flag. He holed out for birdie. Fitzpatrick simply had to hold on over the closing two.
Zalatoris’s birdie try at the penultimate hole lacked requisite pace. Fitzpatrick had a putt for three of his own, but was also short. To the 72nd hole, where the Englishman hit his drive into a bunker. From there he struck a terrific, towering iron into the heart of the green. The actions of a champion. Two putts sealed victory.
Hideki Matsuyama came blasting through the field with a 65 – the lowest single round score of the tournament – and posted a three-under tally to at least give the leading trio food for thought over the closing stages. Matsuyama played the Country Club’s inward half in just 32 for a fourth-placed finish.
As Rory McIlroy rolled in a curling birdie putt at the 1st, hopes were raised of a first major success in almost eight years. McIlroy made par at the tricky 2nd but dropped a shot at the 3rd, a hole which caused him issues in three of the four rounds. A turbulent McIlroy front nine featured a birdie at the 4th, bogey at the 5th, birdie at the 6th and bogey at the 7th. As McIlroy failed to pick up a shot at the par five 8th, his prospects of victory diminished hugely.
With birdies at the 14th and 15th, he was minus two and back in with a small shout. However, a tee shot into sand for the second day in succession at the 16th inflicted the final blow. McIlroy closed with a 69, two under for the tournament and tied fifth with Collin Morikawa. He will ponder what might have been. So, too, Jon Rahm who surprisingly slipped to a final round of 74. Rahm closed in tied 12th.
Morikawa will head to defend the Claret Jug in fine fettle. He signed off from Brookline with a 66but will rue his third round of 77 – he was nine under par over the other three days. “I thought it was the best place I’ve played in a while,” Morikawa said. “You really have to plot your way around here. You’ve got to think through it. I thought it was a course that you could play pretty well at and a course that could kind of hurt you in the back pretty quickly. I think I got both ends of that but overall I loved it.”
Not half as much as Fitzpatrick.