Collin Morikawa reacts after putting on the ninth hole during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at The Country Club on June 17 in Brookline, Mass. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BROOKLINE, Mass.–A playoff was looming Sunday in the U.S. Open, just like it always does at The Country Club, when Matt Fitzpatrick sized up his shot from a bunker left of the 18th fairway.

He had a one-shot lead over Will Zalatoris and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler. He had a big patch of rough-filled turf in front of him, along with a gaping bunker protecting the green and a flag 156 yards away. Nothing less than a U.S. Open title was on the line.  On a back nine filled with clutch moments, Fitzpatrick delivered the biggest of them all.

“One of the best shots I ever hit,” he said.

Fitzpatrick hit 9-iron that started around the steep lip — a “squeezy fade,” he called it — carried the front bunker and settled 18 feet away, setting up a par for a 2-under 68 that made the Englishman a major champion for his first professional win in America.

He won the U.S. Amateur at Brookline in 2013, making him only the second man to win a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open on the same course. Jack Nicklaus, the name on the gold winner’s medal draped around his neck, turned the trick at Pebble Beach. Juli Inkster won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes.

“The feeling’s out of this world,” Fitzpatrick said. “It is so cliché, but it’s stuff you dream of as a kid. Yeah, to achieve it, I can retire a happy man tomorrow.”

Zalatoris, with remarkable resiliency during a tense battle at Brookline, had a 15-foot birdie to force a playoff. He dropped to his knees when the putt slid by the left edge of the cup. He shot 69 and was runner-up for the third time in the last seven majors.

Zalatoris and Scheffler, who earlier had a longer birdie putt to catch up to Fitzpatrick, did all they could. Fitzpatrick was convinced his time was coming, and he grabbed it.

“Matt’s shot on 18 is going to be shown probably for the rest of U.S. Open history,” Zalatoris said. “I walked by it, and I thought that going for it was going to be ballsy. But the fact that he pulled it off and even had a birdie look was just incredible.

“So hats off to him. He played great all week obviously and gave a solid round today.”

The celebration felt familiar. Fitzpatrick shared tearful hugs with his parents and his younger brother, Alex, who caddied for him in the Amateur. He stayed with the same family.

The payoff was $3.15 million and a title — major champion — that money can’t buy.

One of the first phone calls came from Nicklaus, the four-time U.S. Open champion. Turns out Fitzpatrick won the member-member at The Bear’s Club — the course Nicklaus built in south Florida — and what the Golden Bear said that day was not forgotten.

“He gave me a bit of abuse at the start of the year. He said, ‘Finally. Congratulations for winning in the States,’” Fitzpatrick said. And then slightly lifting the trophy, Fitzpatrick sent a fun message to Nicklaus: “Jack, I won a second time.”

It took a good break, a signature shot and some guts at the end.

Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris were tied going to the 15th when the Englishman hit his tee shot so far right that it went into the gallery and found a decent lie on grass that was dead and trampled. Zalatoris missed by only a few yards and was buried in deep grass.

Hideki Matsuyama had the low round of the week at 65, but he finished at 3-under 277, and that was never going to be good enough. McIlroy had a 69 and finished in the group four shots behind with Collin Morikawa (66).

Saturday at Brookline was so wild that defending U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm was the last of eight players who had at least a share of the lead at some point. Three of them didn’t even finish among the top 10, including two-time major champion Morikawa.

Morikawa, who shared the 36-hole lead with Joel Dahmen, had double bogeys on the seventh and 13th holes, and might have had a third after a chunked wedge on No. 4 except that he made a 25-foot putt for bogey. He finished the day with a 77.

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