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Ten biggest winners and losers from 2017 U.S. Open

Jesse Reed
Steve Stricker was tremendous over the weekend at the 2017 U.S. Open

The 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills was a thrilling major championship that featured some shocking developments right out of the gate. From start to finish, it was a highly contested championship that resulted in a crowded leaderboard and some serious pressure down the home stretch.

In the end, one man emerged from a packed field to win in convincing fashion. Tying a U.S. Open record at 16-under par, Brooks Koepka pulled away from the field with a final-round 67 to claim his first major championship.

Along the way, we saw some of golf’s most respected players not even make it to the weekend. Meanwhile a couple amateurs were making big shots all the way through Sunday’s final round.

These were the biggest winners and losers from the 2017 U.S. Open.

Winner: Brooks Koepka dominates on Sunday afternoon for first major title

Brooks Koepka has been one of those young golfers always thought of as a potential burgeoning star. But until his victory Sunday at Erin Hills he was known more as an exceptional athlete than a championship-caliber golfer.

With one previous win on the PGA Tour and one more on the European Tour, the 27-year-old wasn’t a nobody. Heck, he’d placed in the top 10 at major championships four times since 2014. But the word potential was always included in his description.

No. longer.

His main competition most of Sunday afternoon was Brian Harman until Hideki Matsuyama took a clubhouse lead at 12-under par. Then Koepka just hit the accelerator and took off. When he birdied the 15th hole to go up by three strokes over Matsuyama, the tournament was almost over.

Then, rather than playing it safe and cruising to victory, Koepka poured on the sauce, making birdie again on No. 16, his third in a row.

That was all she wrote.

Koepka was just magnificent. His length was ideal for the longest course in U.S. Open history. His iron play on Sunday was razor sharp, and his putts just kept finding the bottom of the cup. It was one of the most compelling final-round performances we’ve seen in a while, and his final score of 16-under par (tying Rory McIlroy for best ever at this major) was the perfect way to cap off what was a fantastic 117th U.S. Open.

Loser: Final-round collapse sends Russell Henley tumbling down the standings

Heading into Sunday’s final round, Russell Henley was perfectly positioned to make a strong charge up the leaderboard. Thanks to a 67 on Saturday, he sat at 8-under par, just four shots off the lead.

An unremarkable front nine saw Henley take the same score into the final nine of the championship.

Then, disaster struck.

In a four-hole stretch, from No. 12 to No. 15, Henley went bogey, bogey, double bogey, quadruple bogey. From 8-under par all the way down to even in four holes.

It was a devastating turn of events that sent him hurtling down the leaderboard. He went from a tie for seventh place all the way down to a tie for 27th in the relative blink of an eye.

Thankfully Henley was able to stop the bleeding with a birdie at the par-5 18th hole. But the damage had already been done.

Winner: Hideki Matsuyama storms up leaderboard in dramatic fashion

While no Asian golfer has ever won the U.S. Open, a few have gotten close — Isao Aoki being the closest with a second-place finish in 1980. Matsuyama wasn’t able to generate enough heat to catch the equally hot Koepka Sunday afternoon in Wisconsin, but he absolutely tore the course up to finish in a tie for second place.

After posting a very respectable 34 on the front nine, Matsuyama went hunting for birdies on the back nine, at one point scoring four in a six-hole stretch.

In the end, he finished with a stunning four-under 32 on the back nine to post a 66 in the final round.

Since 2013, Matsuyama has finished in the top 10 at major championships six times, including this weekend. The Japanese star is still just 25 years of age, and it seems inevitable that he’ll finally break through with a major victory before his career is over.

Loser: Jordan Spieth loses any hope of contending on Saturday

While almost all the world’s top golfers were out of the tournament before Friday, Jordan Spieth was hanging around, just seven strokes off the lead.

As we know, Saturday’s action featured some astonishing low scores, including a U.S. Open record of 9-under par by Justin Thomas. All told, 32 golfers shot below par, and at the end of the day, Brian Harman was atop the leaderboard heading into Sunday’s round with a score of 12-under par.

All that to say that Spieth’s third round score of 76 absolutely put him out of the tournament.

Not only did he fail to move up the board, he tumbled precipitously. And while his final-round 69 was a sort of moral victory, Spieth admitted after the round in his FOX Sports interview that it was a bit disheartening playing on Sunday with no hope of winning.

Since his magical 2015 season, the going has been a bit rougher for the former No. 1 player in the world. The 2017 U.S. Open marked the fifth straight major in which Spieth failed to crack the top 10, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he bounces back at The Open Championship next month.

Winner: Amateurs Cameron Champ, Scottie Scheffler play like seasoned pros

When the action ceased at the 2017 U.S. Open, amateur golfers Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ finished among the top 32 in a field that began with 156 golfers.

Current Texas Longhorns 20-year-old junior, Scheffler was the low amateur for the tournament, finishing at 1-under par. Playing down the road from his long-time rival, Texas A&M Aggies junior Champ nearly tied him on No. 18 but settled in at even par for the championship.

In a tournament that saw so many top golfers fail to even make the cut, let alone finish on the leaderboard, it was amazing to see amateurs competing at such a high level.

Champ is one of the longest hitters we’ve ever seen. His display off the tee this past weekend was fun to watch. Scheffler’s overall game was just as impressive. While they didn’t quite finish as strong as they started, we look forward to seeing these two compete as professionals in the coming years.

Loser: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, other top golfers shockingly miss cut

Rory McIlroy 2017 U.S. Open

There was a lot of hype surrounding Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Jason Day (more on him in a bit) heading into the U.S. Open this year. To a lesser extent, guys like Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose were seen as guys who’d be there on Sunday to challenge for the major title.

Especially since Erin Hills is so long, and because it was perfect for scoring low after being rained on.

“If you look at the golf course and you even talk to me, Jason or Rory, this course sets up perfect for us,” Johnson said, per ESPN’s Bob Harig. “But as we all know, this game’s all about putting. So it’s pretty simple: I just didn’t get it in the hole fast enough.”

Despite very favorable playing conditions on Thursday and Friday, the best score anyone in the aforementioned group (all top-12 guys, by the way) managed to post was 2-over par. McIlroy and Rahm finished at 5-over, and Day couldn’t get out of his own way en route to 10-over par.

It was just brutal.

What is even stranger about these guys missing the cut is that Erin Hills was open for business as it pertained to low scores. Huge fairways and soft greens led to some very low scores. But the world’s top golfers collectively made a mess of the whole thing.

Winner: Steve Stricker makes Wisconsin proud

Wisconsin native Steve Stricker didn’t have an exemption to play in the 2017 U.S. Open. He asked the USGA for a special exemption being that the major championship was being contested for the first time ever in his home state, but the organization declined to give him one.

So Stricker went to work getting into the tournament, coming through with a tremendous performance at a 36-hole qualifier. And in the end, he was glad it went down the way it did.

“It means a lot,” Stricker said, per the Associated Press. “It’s been at the forefront of my thinking for a while now. It’s kind of a relief knowing I got in on my own terms. I went through qualifying. I’d rather have it that way. I’m glad I did it this way.”

Once Stricker got into the tournament, the going wasn’t necessarily easy. He posted scores of 73 and 72 in the first two rounds, just getting in at the cut line of 1-over par.

Then over the weekend, the 50-year-old turned back the clock with dual 69s, finishing the championship at 5-under par. Better yet, Stricker birdied three of his final five holes, finishing the major in style. And while his final score was well off the lead, the fans at Erin Hills treated Stricker like a king when he finished his final round.

Loser: Ernie Els fails to capitalize on strong start

Ernie Els has been a mainstay at U.S. Opens and other major championships dating all the way back to 1993. He won this championship twice, first in 1994 and then again in 1997. The Big Easy has four total major titles to his credit, the last coming in 2012 at The Open Championship. That win gave him a five-year exemption from needing to qualify for majors.

Following a last-place finish at the Masters, Els isn’t guaranteed another trip to Augusta without picking up a qualifying victory. The same conditions existed for the South African entering the 2017 U.S. Open.

After a score of 70 in the first round, a faint hope existed that, just maybe, the easy-swinging 47-year-old might have a bit of magic left in his bag. Just five strokes off the lead, he needed to continue going low for three more days.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Els shot 72 on Friday, an agonizing 79 on Saturday and finished the tournament with a final-round 74, leading to 7-over par on the championship. It’s quite possible this was the last U.S. Open that will feature Els, and that’s not a happy thought.

Winner: Erin Hills sparkles throughout

The USGA typically doesn’t like seeing so many low scores in the U.S. Open, but don’t blame it all on Erin Hills. This course, which is a relatively new venue created specifically to host the U.S. Open, absolutely sparkled.

Rain had a lot to do with the way players were able to stick balls close to tough pins, and true putts rarely failed to drop.

The greens were immaculate, yet they punished players who failed to hit the mark.

The fairways were massive, yet a misfire proved to be a costly mistake that often resulted in a two-stroke (or more) penalty —  the fescue that drew the ire of Kevin Na before the tournament was as brutal as advertised. The bunkers were picturesque, yet they too featured some gnarly teeth.

All we need to do to judge whether Erin Hills was a difficult test is look at all the top players who didn’t play over the weekend. It just so happened that there were some guys who took advantage of the prime scoring conditions, which led to the birdie fest atop the leaderboard.

All in all, we’d love to see this golf course featured again in the future. And it’s not crazy to imagine birdies being a lot more difficult to come by on a dried out course. That just didn’t happen this weekend.

Loser: Jason Day absolutely crumbles

One of the favorites to win the U.S. Open every year, Day came into Erin Hills having played some darn good golf recently. He finished in 15th place at the Memorial Tournament and posted a second-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson in late May.

The Australian arrived in Erin, Wis. a week before the major championship and said, “I put in the best preparation for any major in my career,” per ESPN’s Bob Harig.

Then the wheels came off.

Day couldn’t stay out of the brutal fescue, and once he got near the green he didn’t always find it.

On Thursday he posted dual triple bogeys for the first time his his career. He ended up shooting a 79 to pretty much put himself out of the tournament after one day. Friday’s round was slightly better, but Day still finished with a 3-over-par round of 75.

All told, Day posted one of the worst two-day scores of anyone who played the 2017 U.S. Open, finishing at 10-over par.