Course marshals hold up the rope as USA's Brooks Koepka putts towards to the 5th green from the 3rd tee, during the first round of the British Open Golf Championship in Carnoustie, Scotland, Thursday July 19, 2018. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

Koepka brought to his knees, rebounds for 72 at British Open

July 19, 2018 - 2:27 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) — Brooks Koepka stepped back in the sand, took a deep breath and composed himself ahead of a third shot from the greenside bunker.

Moments earlier, Koepka had been brought to his knees at Carnoustie amid a wild stretch of six dropped shots in five holes that left the U.S. Open champion unusually flustered at the British Open.

Just when his opening round looked like it was unraveling, he fought back.

Koepka reached the turn in 41 before rallying with a stunning 31 on the back nine for a 1-over 72 on Thursday. It left him six shots off the lead and with his ambitions of back-to-back major victories just about intact.

"I could care less, man. 1-over, I don't think is going to kill me," Koepka said. "... I definitely didn't shoot myself out of it, which very easily could have happened."

The defining image of Koepka's round came on the par-3 eighth hole, when he got down on both knees, leaned into a bunker and attempted to flick the ball out. It was a shot he had practiced on Tuesday with his coach, Pete Cowen, but Koepka said he got "too cute." The ball stayed in the sand and settled in a bad lie.

For his next shot, he took plenty of sand and not enough of the ball, which rebounded off the wall of the bunker and dropped back in.

Koepka got up-and-down for a double-bogey 5, which came after a double at the par-4 fifth when he hit an approach shot so wide that he was forced to putt under some TV cables held up by two men. He also bogeyed Nos. 7 and 9.

At 5 over par, were bad thoughts starting to creep in?

"I'm not one to give up," said the world's No. 4 player, who has won the last two U.S. Opens. "I'm not one to ... feel sorry for myself. I feel like I played well. Like I said, I was playing well even during that stretch. You've just got to keep plugging away, and hopefully some good stuff happens."

It did on the back nine. His response was birdies on the 10th and 12th before curling in a long putt on No. 13 and shouting, "Go get that!" to his caddie, mimicking a line used by Jordan Spieth in the final round last year on his way to the claret jug.

Another long birdie putt shaved the hole on No. 18, giving Koepka only the seventh par of his round and keeping him in the black. He bent his knees, looked up to the sky and gave a wry smile.

"I was eight back after the U.S. Open (first round)," he said. "I'm not really concerned."

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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