Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat equalled his best finish in the majors by finishing 15th at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Sunday and has unoficially earned his PGA TOUR card for next season.
The 28-year-old Kiradech closed with a 3-over 73 in the final round, which included a closing birdie on the demanding 18th hole for a four-day total of 9-over 289. He emerged as the leading Asian, finishing one stroke ahead Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (66) and Haotong Li of China (69) who were amongst those in T16.
American Brooks Koepka successfully retained his title by one shot with a final round 68, holding off a fast-charging Tommy Fleetwood of England who matched the U.S. Open low with a superb 63. Koepka, who became the first repeat winner at the U.S. Open since Curtis Strange in 1989, totaled 1-over 281.
Starting the week, Kiradech set himself a goal of finishing in the top-30 in what was only his second U.S. Open appearance but entering the final day three shots off the lead following a third round 68, the likeable Thai was disappointed with his final 18 holes on Sunday.
“It was a tough day. I didn’t hit enough fairways or greens unlike the third round and that makes it tough here. I’m happy with my final position as I wanted top-30 but I’m quite disappointed I didn’t put any pressure on the leaders at all. I was three shots back at the start of the day but I didn’t stay in contention,” said Kiradech, who had finished T15 at the 2016 Masters Tournament.
Kiradech, a former Asian Tour No. 1, turned in one-over with three bogeys against two birdies but battled to stay within the top-15 despite three more dropped shots. He signed off with an 18-foot birdie conversion on 18, which was ranked the toughest hole during the final round.
“This week was all about being patient and positioning the ball well. But I think I tried to control my game too much today to avoid the trouble and it didn’t work out. I wasn’t as aggressive as I would normally play,” said Kiradech, who rose two rungs to 29th in the latest Official World Golf Ranking.
As a Special Temporary Member of the PGA TOUR, Kiradech earned an equivalent of 61 FedExCup points to increase his season’s tally to 401 points. Last season, the 125th ranked player, J.J. Henry, kept his TOUR card by earning 365 points which puts Kiradech firmly in position to secure his PGA TOUR card for 2018-19.
“I think I got that unoficially. I was told 380 points would probably be good for this season (to reach the 125th ranked position),” said Kiradech, whose 401 points would rank him 89th in the latest FedExCup points standing if he was a full member. He also became the first from Thailand to earn a full PGA card.
The powerful Koepka made a little history on Sunday, winning his second straight U.S. Open Championship. Clinging to a one-shot lead after England’s Tommy Fleetwood tied the championship record with a 63 two hours earlier, Koepka shot a 68 for the highest winning score at the championship since 2012. He became only the seventh player to win the championship in consecutive years.
“This is incredible,” said Koepka, who shot 75 in the first round. “I don’t think I could have dreamed of this, going back-to-back. I always felt like I had a chance (despite the poor opening round). Make a couple birdies and make up a lot of ground. Keep grinding. I knew conditions would ease up and they did and I took advantage of it.”
The other three third round co-leaders never got on track. Dustin Johnson, the 36-hole leader, had another rough day on the greens and shot 70 to finish third at 3-over 283. Tony Finau shot 72, including a double-bogey on the 72nd hole and finished fifth at 5-over. Daniel Berger shot 73 and tied for sixth at 6 over.
Fleetwood’s 63 matched the record shared by five others and was reminiscent of Johnny Miller, who shot a 63 at Oakmont in 1973 to deny Arnold Palmer the championship. Fleetwood, the No. 12-ranked player in the world, missed an eight-foot birdie on the 18th hole that would have given him the record and would have forced a playoff.
“I honestly never really thought I was out of it,” Fleetwood said. “All the way around, I always felt like I could get myself back in it. It’s funny, though, when you finish, you always feel like you’ve kind of missed your shot.”
Reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed, who played alongside Kiradech, began the day with a barrage of five birdies over his first seven holes and had a share of the lead early. But a pair of untimely bogeys halted his momentum and prevented him from winning the second leg of the Grand Slam. He shot 68 and tied for fourth.