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Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Calm Koepka looks set to prove the king of Erin Hills

Powerhouse building on Ryder Cup debut

Brooks Koepka and Erin Hills are a perfect match
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Story so far

Brian Harman started the US Open as a 200-1 outsider, but the little left-hander takes a one-shot lead into the final round at Erin Hills, Wisconsin.

Harman, who won the Wells Fargo Championship last month, is a two-time US Tour champion at the age of 30. He has never bettered 26th place in a Major, though, and was not expected to make an impact in this elite line-up.

Three players are tied for second place, only one shot behind, and a thrilling Sunday shootout seems on the cards. Most of the biggest names in the field missed the cut, but powerhouse American duo Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas have understandably fallen in love with the long, soft, open layout and positioned themselves just behind Harman with 18 holes to go.

Koepka, Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood, the leading European, share second, with Rickie Fowler alone in fifth place and Si Woo Kim alone in sixth.

Koepka and Thomas are co-favourites at 4-1, with Fowler at 9-2. Harman is a general 5-1 chance, with Fleetwood at 15-2. Sawgrass champion Kim can be backed at 16-1 and it is 25-1 bar those.

Patrick Reed stormed up to seventh spot with a third-round 65, while Paul Casey went the other way with a 75. The Grand Slam dream of Sergio Garcia hangs by a thread, the Spaniard carding a second successive 71 to tie for 17th place, eight shots adrift of Harman.

Play is scheduled to resume at 2.51pm UK and Ireland time, with the final twoball of Harman and Thomas on the tee at 8.54pm. Cooler temperatures and moderate breezes are forecast.

Leaderboard

-12 Brian Harman
-11 Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood
-10 Rickie Fowler
-9 Si Woo Kim
-8 Patrick Reed, Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman
-7 Bill Haas, Brendan Steele, Brandt Snedeker, Xander Schauffele

Selected others

-6 Hideki Matsuyama,
-4 Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey
+4 Jordan Spieth

Best prices

4 J Thomas, B Koepka, 9-2 R Fowler, 5 B Harman, 15-2 T Fleetwood, 16 S W Kim, 25 P Reed, 40 R Henley, C Hoffman, 66 B Snedeker, H Matsuyama, 80 B Steele, B Haas, 150 X Schauffele, 175 JB Holmes, B Wiesberger, 250 S Garcia, 300 L Oosthuizen, 350 P Casey, 500 bar

Final-round advice

Erin Hills always looked like a venue that big-hitters could dominate and the leaderboard seems likely to confirm that suspicion when 72 holes are completed. The US Open appears to be turning into a shootout between two of the most powerful players on the planet.

The outright market with 18 holes to go has found the right favourites, but not to a great enough extent. Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas have got strong cards to play in round four and could quickly distance themselves from the rest.

Both Koepka and Thomas are blessed with enormous length, and there has been enough rain at Erin Hills to keep the track soft and welcoming for these two ultra-aggressive sluggers. Both men have arrived at the second Major of the season with their A-game and both can approach the final round with great confidence.

Koepka has oozed long-game control all week, swinging beautifully and churning out greens in regulation, while Thomas showcased his ability with a spectacular surge to the top of the leaderboard in round three. From two under par to 11 under with nine birdies and a closing eagle – Thomas made mincemeat of Erin Hills. He could easily have eagled the 15th as well as the 18th, having fired right at the flag on the 288-yard par-four.

Following up a 63 with something similar will not be easy for Thomas – it is notoriously difficult to back up a fireworks display like that with another one – but this 24-year-old bomber is bursting with talent.

Punters with deep pockets can back both Koepka and Thomas at 4-1 and enjoy round four with both on their side, but preference between the two is for Koepka. Thomas, as mentioned, may have already peaked with that incredible 63, and he has to go out in the final twoball alongside Harman. The pressure of being in the last match, and the potentially unsettling effect of a Harman who seems likely to struggle, could cost Thomas.

Harman has never looked good enough to become a Major champion and Erin Hills did not seem a particularly good layout for the little lefty. The Georgia man could hang tough with a red-hot putter, but it is more likely that he will drop like a stone from the top of the board.

Rickie Fowler is only two shots off the pace, but he has to overcome some serious Major battle scars to get the job done. The 28-year-old has suffered several near-misses in Major competition and flopped badly in round four when in with a golden chance of Masters glory at Augusta in April. Koepka and Thomas are younger, do not have that history of Sunday failure, and are probably carrying more self-belief into the Erin Hills denouement.

Koepka made a superb Ryder Cup debut last year and walks tall knowing he has produced the goods under maximum pressure. There has been a calmness about him this week. Thomas is yet to taste Ryder Cup combat.

A first-time Major winner is almost certain. Normal Major rules have gone out of the window in this US Open. Typically, there are several players who have already got a Major title under their belt in close attendance, drawing on experience and assurance, but there is not a Major champion in sight at Erin Hills.

Seven of the top-ten in the pre-tournament betting missed the cut and the Major champions closest to the lead are Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia, who both sit at four under par, eight behind. Oosthuizen and Garcia, both ante-post Racing Post Sport selections, need a brilliant final round just to have any hope of making the each-way places. It is time for a long overdue investment in Koepka, who has played rock-solid golf all week and can get his reward with the US Open trophy.

Tommy Fleetwood can be suspect carrying final-round nerves, and a Stateside breakthrough for the Englishman seems extremely unlikely, while the rest have probably given Koepka and Thomas too much rope. Koepka, Thomas, Fowler is the predicted tri-cast.

Final-round twoball punters are pointed towards two comfortable Americans against two Japanese raiders. Jason Kokrak can outmuscle Yusaku Miyazato in the 3.57pm match, while it should be a similar story in the 5.14pm contest between Harris English and Satoshi Kodaira.

Outright recommendations
B Koepka
4pts 4-1 general

Koepka-Thomas straight forecast
1pt 20-1 Paddy Power

Koepka-Thomas dual forecast
1pt 17-2 Sky Bet

Twoballs recommendations
J Kokrak
1pt 5-6 general

H English
1pt 10-11 general

Koepka has oozed long-game control all week, swinging beautifully and churning out greens in regulation
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