Steady and solid all day, Gary Woodland wins U.S. Open by 3
 

Steady and solid all day, Gary Woodland wins U.S. Open by 3

First-time major winner thwarts Brooks Koepka's bid for three straight

06/17/2019
Reid Spencer Editor & Publisher
image (Photo by John Mummert/Copyright USGA)
Gary Woodland raises his arms in triumph after sinking a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the U.S. open by three shots.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Gary Woodland’s final putt of the 119th U.S. Open couldn’t have been more fitting.

Playing the final hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links conservatively with a two-shot lead, Woodland ran a 30-foot birdie putt into the center of the cup to win his first major title by three shots and thwart runner-up Brooks Koepka’s attempt to become the second player—and the first in 114 years—to win three straight U.S. Opens.

A bold play with a 3-wood from the fairway on the difficult par-5 14th hole set up a birdie that gave Woodland a two-shot lead that grew to three strokes with the closing birdie. Woodland finished at 13-under-par 271, eclipsing Tiger Woods’ 12-under score at Pebble Beach from 2000, though not approaching Woods’ record 15 shot margin in the Centennial Open.

For the first time in eight tries, Woodland tasted victory after leading through 54 holes. He didn’t falter when he faded his approach to the 17th green to the right section of the putting surface. Choosing to pitch rather than putt because of the contours, he clipped a wedge shot to gimmie range and tapped in for par.

From there, it was an iron off the tee at the 18th, followed by a layup and an approach to 30 feet before he holed the final putt for 69 and a 271 total, tied for the second lowest raw score in a U.S. Open with Martin Kaymer’s 9-under 271 at Pienhurst in 2014. Woodland’s immediate reaction was one of relief.

“Oh, just glad it was over,” he said. “I didn't let myself get ahead at all today. Didn't ever let myself think the tournament was over. So I just stayed in it.

“I knew the putt was big. I knew Tiger shot 12 under here when he won in 2000. So I knew trying to get one more would have been nice. But I would have taken 12 pretty easily, too.

With four birdies in his first five holes, Koepka had his chances, but he couldn’t make a birdie after the 11th as Woodland played amazingly steady golf within reach of his first major.

“I played great,” said Koepka (photo), the first player to post four rounds in the 60s and fail to win the U.S. Open. “Nothing I could do. Gary played a great four days. That's what you've got to do if you want to win a U.S. Open, win a major championship, and hats off to him. Cool way to go out on 18, to make that bomb. He deserves it. He's worked hard and I'm happy for him.

Koepka said he didn’t think about coming up short in his quest for three straight until he walked off the 18th green.

“It doesn't sting,” Koepka said. “I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time, and sometimes, like this week—it happened at Augusta—it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your ‘good’ is, it isn't there.

“Yeah, it was awesome to come this close to going three in a row. It's incredible. Anytime you can compete in a major is special, and to have a chance to go back-to-back-to-back, that was pretty cool. I didn't really think about it until I was done on 18 and realized how close I actually was to kind of, I guess, not making history, but kind of tying it, I guess you could say.

“But it's a cool feeling to know. Just wasn't meant to be this week.”

Koepka birdied four of the first five holes to get to 11 under, but his most spectacular work came at the one hole he failed to beat par. His drive on the 526-yard, par-4 second hole sailed wide to the right, hit the cart path and bounded into thick rough.

Koepka’s second shot came up well short, in tall grass on the face of the deep trench bunker 70 yards short of the hole. From that point he hit a miraculous pitch that ran just past the flag and settled 5 feet away. Koepka sank the putt to save par and gave the ball to a young girl as he walked toward the third tee.

Having already birdied the first hole from short range, Koepka added birdies on Nos. 3, 4 and 5, the last with a 22-foot putt, but bunkered his second-shot approach to the par-5 sixth and failed to make birdie of Pebble Beach’s easiest hole.

He missed a birdie try from 7 feet at the short seventh and left his second shot at No. 8 inside the yellow hazard line 20 yards short of the green. Koepka advanced the ball into the front bunker, blasted close and made the putt for his first bogey in 36 holes. The “5” at No. 8 left him three shots behind Woodland (left in photo, getting a hug from caddie Brennan Little) and one behind Rose, who were playing the eighth behind him.

Woodland drove into the left rough at No. 9 and pitched out, leading to bogey, while Koepka picked up his fifth birdie of the day at No. 11. With Rose having made bogey at No. 8, Koepka trailed Woodland by one stroke.

A tee shot into the front bunker at No. 12, however, cost Koepka his second bogey of the round, and Woodland had a two-shot lead as he faced the tee shot on the par-3 12th. But Woodland carved his approach into deep rough to the right of the right-hand greenside bunker and made bogey, as did Rose from the front bunker—failing to get up-and-down from the sand for only the fourth time in 15 tries in the championship.

Another failed sand save attempt on No. 13—after a drive to the middle of the fairway—dropped Rose to 8 under and three behind his playing companion.

Woodland picked up a shot on the long par-5 14th after Koepka drove into the rough and saved par from the bank to the left of the green on the same hole. Woodland hit the fairway and powered a 3-wood shot from 263 yards the landed near the top of the front bunker and hopped forward into the edge of the intermediate collar to the left of the pin.

A chip and a 3½-foot putt later, Woodland again led by two.

“Yeah, 12 was probably really one of the worst swings I made all week,” Woodland said when describing the decisive sequence of holes 12, 13 and 14. “And we missed it in the right spot. We missed it where we wanted to, just it got a little far. Had to take my medicine. Played a little conservative, take your ‘4’ and try to move on.

“Hit a bad drive there on 13 as well. But really stuck in there and hit one of the better swings I made all week on the second shot. It's nice to get away with ‘4’ there.

“And then we just wanted to play aggressive. I hit a great drive on 14. It was either we're going to lay up or we're going to go for it, and we sat there and thought about it for a while and said ‘Let's go, we're out here to win.’ Played aggressive, and it paid off.”

Koepka couldn’t get any closer than two back over the final holes. On the 18th, still trailing by two, Koepka split the fairway with his tee shot, but his 3-iron approach bounced into tall grass behind the green. After an indifferent chip, he just missed a 9-foot birdie try that might have made the final hole a bit more difficult for Woodland.

Rose’s bunker magic continued to fade on the back nine and he dropped to 7 under after a 74, in a third-place tie with Chez Reavie (71), Xander Schauffele (67) and Jon Rahm (68).

 
 
 
 
 
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