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Posted March 31, 2019 01:03 pm
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Brooks Koepka brings major momentum into Masters

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    Brooks Koepka is the first player since Curtis Strange (1988-89) to win back-to-back U.S. Opens. If he wins again in June at Pebble Beach, he’ll join Willie Anderson (1903-05) as the only golfers to win three in a row. [ALLEN EYESTONE/The Palm Beach Post]

Brooks Koepka has the U.S. Open down pat, and he isn’t too bad in the PGA Championship. He’d like to be as successful at the Masters Tournament.

“I need to figure out Augusta a little bit. I haven’t quite had the results there that I’ve had elsewhere,” Koepka said.

There is quite a contrast in his record at the Masters and U.S. Open, the first two majors of the year.

He’s won the past two U.S. Opens and also has a tie for 18th in 2015 and a tie for 13th in 2016.

He’s yet to crack the top 10 in three Masters appearances. Koepka tied for 33rd in 2015, tied for 21st in 2016 and tied for 11th in 2017.

He didn’t get a shot last year because a left wrist injury sidelined him from early January to late April. The Masters ran from April 5-8.

“It was very frustrating, sitting on the couch, not doing anything,” he said. “I couldn’t pick anything up with my left hand. I couldn’t even pull a sheet up over me. I was in a soft cast all the way up to my elbow (for two months). It wasn’t fun. A lot of TV. I don’t wish it upon anybody.”

The worst part of being out of action came when he learned he wouldn’t be ready in time for the Masters. He hadn’t watched any golf on TV during his rehab – until the Masters.

“I didn’t miss it until I knew I wasn’t going to be at Augusta,” he said. “When I knew I wasn’t going to be at Augusta, probably about a week to maybe a week and a half before, I really did miss it. I missed the preparation. I missed the competitiveness.”

Koepka takes it as a positive that he has had a higher finish each time he’s played in Augusta.

“I feel like every time I’ve gone to Augusta I think I’ve been trending in the right direction,” he said. “I think we have gone, what, 33rd, 21st and 11th. So I can knock off another 1, that would be nice. It’s a good little pattern going in.”

He has won all of his majors since his last Masters appearance. Those wins give him a lot more confidence heading into Augusta National.

“That’s all it is. I’m excited to get back there,” he said. “I’m always excited for a major, but it will be nice to go back as an actual major champion for the first time.”

He has been peaking at the right time the past two years when the U.S. Open rolls around in mid-June. In 2017, he won at a nontraditional course at Erin Hills. Last year, he won at Shinnecock Hills, a classic course built in 1892.

At Shinnecock, Koepka overcame 75 in the first round to win, shooting rounds of 66-72-68. He beat Tommy Fleetwood, who closed with a tournament record-tying 63, by a shot.

Knowing Fleetwood had posted 63 to finish at 2-over 282 hours earlier, Koepka kept his composure. He birdied No. 14, parred Nos. 15-17 and had a two-shot lead going into No. 18, which he bogeyed.

“I think I was walking to 10 tee, maybe I saw it (that Fleetwood posted 63). Or maybe walking back to 14 or something, I saw on the big leaderboard back there that he had posted that,” Koepka said. “I knew the golf course was a little bit tougher, and if we can make – we had a par-5 coming up. If you can make a birdie there and squeak one out and keep parring it to death, we’d be fine. As long as you beat that 2-over, I felt like it was going to be good enough.”

The win came in Koepka’s sixth start after recovering from his wrist injury. He acknowledged that not being able to play golf made him appreciate it more.

″“When you’re out of competition – I don’t want to say I was depressed, but I was definitely down,” Koepka said. “And to finally have the chance to come back and play, I can’t tell you how excited I was. To finally to get the OK from the doctors, I’ve never been more focused, more driven, more excited to play and really embracing what’s around me.”

Koepka became the first player since Curtis Strange (1988-89) to win back-to-back U.S. Opens. If he wins again in June at Pebble Beach, he’ll join Willie Anderson (1903-05) as the only golfers to win three in a row.

“To go back to back, I mean, that’s – I really can’t even put it into words,” he said. “When you look back at history, it’s incredible. It really is.”