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Brooks Koepka considers himself the man to beat

Brooks Koepka on the 18th hole at the

Brooks Koepka on the 18th hole at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on Saturday. Credit: James Escher

Brooks Koepka was as frustrated as most other golfers on Saturday with the course conditions at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

But that had no effect on the defending champion’s trademark self-assurance.

“There’s nobody more confident,” he said after a third-round 2-over-par 72 that put him in a four-way tie for first place at 3 over for the tournament entering Sunday’s final round. “I won this thing last year. I feel really good. My game’s in a good spot. I feel like you’ve got to kind of take it from me, to be honest with you.”

Koepka will be paired with his friend Dustin Johnson (77), giving the two most recent Open winners a close look at each other all day.

“We’re good buddies,” Johnson said, “but tomorrow when we tee off . . . we’ll be friends after the round, not during.”

Koepka bogeyed the first hole on Saturday and birdied the second, then had an up-and-down back nine as the wind swirled and scores soared. He birdied 11 before three bogeys over the final seven holes.

That was far from unusual on a day that left players complaining bitterly about the conditions.

“Some of these putts, there’s just no grass around the hole, so it’s hard to stop it,” Koepka said.

When asked about the 15th hole, which he bogeyed, he said, “I don’t have anything nice to say about that green and the pin location, so I’m just not going to say it.”

The other two golfers tied for the lead, Tony Finau and Daniel Berger, went out early and both shot 4-under 66.

“Let’s put it this way: If they’d have shot 4-under this afternoon,” Koepka said, “it would probably have been the best round of golf anybody’s ever seen.”

Sunday is another day, and the USGA plans to give the golfers a better chance at making reasonable scores. Koepka can hope for the best but will prepare for the worst.

“Sometimes in a U.S. Open, you’ve just got to take your medicine,” he said. “Bogey, you’ll be all right. That’s kind of the goal, to be honest with you.”

Despite the agita, Koepka is tied for the lead entering the final round of the U.S. Open, with a chance to become the first man to win the event in consecutive years since Curtis Strange in 1988 and ’89.

“I’m just thinking one shot at a time,” he said. “I feel really good. I feel confident . . . My track record is pretty good at U.S. Opens. I feel like the harder the golf course, the better. It’s already going to eliminate so many guys. Some guys get down on themselves. You can eliminate them pretty much right away. You can’t get frustrated.”

When asked one last question about the conditions and the disparity between the morning and afternoon, Koepka said, “Don’t really care, man . . . It comes down to winning a U.S. Open. You’ve got to have some grit, some heart. I mean, I’ve won one, so why not win another?”

New York Sports