ERIN, Wis. (AP) — On the last day of the U.S. Open, Hideki Matsuyama was better than everyone else. Better than Brian Harman, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and the rest of the congested leaderboard.
Just not good enough.
Matsuyama shot a 6-under 66 on Sunday to pull within one of the lead, but Brooks Koepka birdied three straight holes to pull away to his first major championship. The 25-year-old Japanese star had two of the best rounds of the tournament — he shot 65 on Friday — but a 2-over 74 in his opening round loomed large as the scores got lower and lower at a forgiving Erin Hills.
“You’ve got to put four good rounds together,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “I played two good rounds, but it wasn’t enough.”
Matsuyama’s 66 was the best score on a windy final day, one better than Koepka. The average score in the fourth round was 73.9.
But he had to settle for a tie for second with Harman, four strokes back of the champion.
“I played really well today,” said Matsuyama, who watched Koepka close out his title on a TV in the clubhouse. “Came up a little bit short. No regrets, but I did play well.”
Matsuyama got off to a fast start with three birdies in his first five holes, including a 41-foot putt from just off the green on No. 4. He was 2 under at the turn, and then really poured it on when he hit the back nine.
Matsuyama had five birdies and one bogey in his final eight holes. He set up a short birdie putt with a nice chip on 18, and then waited around for the leaders to finish.
“I learned a lot this week,” he said. “Hopefully, though, in the future, in majors, I can play in the either last or next to last group to give myself a better chance. But I’m happy with the way I played, and it gives me confidence going forward.”
It was Matsuyama’s best finish in a major, another high in a topsy-turvy season.
He defended his title in the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, beating Webb Simpson in a playoff at TPC Scottsdale. He also tied for 11th in the Masters, but his game dropped off a bit from there.
After tying for 45th at the Memorial last month, Matsuyama arrived at Erin Hills on a downturn. But he seemed to get back on track in the second round, with birdies on six of his first eight holes.
An uneven finish on Saturday also hurt his chances. He had three bogeys and two birdies on back nine, finishing with a 1-under 71.
“I’m glad the fairways were wide, but there were some really difficult holes out there, and I’m glad I played as well as I did,” he said.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap