PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Gary Woodland said he needed to learn to control his emotions and fully understand his swing to get his game to the next level. After Sunday’s U.S. Open victory consider him leveled up.
Woodland, 35, made just four bogeys all week to win the 119th U.S. Open by three shots over defending champion Brooks Koepka. Woodland put an exclamation mark on the victory with a long birdie putt at the final hole to shoot two-under on the day, and 13-under on the week. Woodland came into the week 0-for-7 holding onto the 54-hole lead throughout his career.
“I’ve just always believed in myself, no matter what I’ve done from when I was a young kid I always believed I’d be successful,” Woodland said. “I’ve always believed I’d play professional sports, I didn’t know what sport that would be. But I always believed I’d be in this moment.”
Like Koepka, Woodland grew up an athlete playing many different sports. His father worked nights and spent his days teaching his son sports and taking him to games. Instead of imagining making the winning putt at a major, Woodland imagined hitting the game-winning shot for the NBA title, later attending university on a basketball scholarship. After a year at Washburn University, he transferred to Kansas on a golf scholarship.
“My dad never forced me to do anything, but if I did it — if I decided to go play catch with him or go play basketball — he was hard on me,” Woodland said. “You had to do it the right way if you were going to do it. He never let me win. I remember the first time I beat him in golf I was 13, and I don’t think I beat him in basketball until I was 14 or 15. He was just bigger than me and he would never let me win.”
In 2017, Woodland and wife Gabby were expecting twins and unexpectedly lost one of the babies. The second child was born three months later. Woodland’s son Jaxson turns two next week, and his wife Gabby is expecting again at the end of the summer. Before Sunday’s final round he Facetimed his family.
“It’s hard not being with them, I look forward to getting back,” he said. “We’re expecting identical twin girls in the next couple months so she’s at home … it’s special.”
Before the round began, Woodland was warming up on the range alongside his competitors. While others were surrounded by three or four members of their team, Woodland had just his Canadian caddie Brennan Little at his side. Little was on the bag for Mike Weir when he won the 2003 Masters. All week Woodland had been preaching the importance of being able to figure things out on his own. On Sunday, he proved he could do it on golf’s biggest stage.
Beginning the day with the lead, Woodland never gave it up. With Koepka breathing down his neck from the group ahead, Woodland hit a three-wood for the ages toward the green at the par-5 14th hole. The risky shot set up an easy birdie to give him some breathing room over the two-time defending champ.
“I played great, nothing I could do,” Koepka said. “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.”
During the final round, Woodland made certain to slow things down by soaking in his surroundings at the stunning course. By slowing things down he was able to control the emotions that had overwhelmed him in the past.
“I was just trying to take in the beauty of the whole moment,” he said. “It helps ease it and kind of puts everything in perspective.”
Woodland finished the week without a single three-putt, an unbelievable feat at a U.S. Open. But this was not your usual U.S. Open, if there is such a thing anymore. Woodland’s 271 total is the second lowest total in the history of the championship.
Pebble Beach played tough all week, but not U.S. Open tough. The forecasted sun never came to firm up the greens and the wind never arrived to make sure players missed them. Players were raving about how fair the course was, which tells you all you need to know. That said, the course is still a daunting masterpiece with its tiny greens and thick rough and was enough of a test to identify the best players of the week.
Justin Rose began the day just one shot back of Woodland but the Englishman had been relying heavily on a scorching putter all week, and his luck ran out. Averaging just 24 putts per round over the first three days, Rose needed 32 putts on Sunday and stumbled to a three-over par 74, to finish tied for third at seven-under.
“The putter wasn’t quite as warm today as it was yesterday,” Rose said. “Took a bit of a day off. But I felt like I had to have a day where I pieced everything together to win. It was close. But coming in, once momentum leaves you a little bit, it just becomes hard to grind it out.”
Also in the group at seven-under was Jon Rahm and former RBC Canadian Open champ Chez Reavie. It’s Rahm’s eighth top-ten in 13 tournaments in 2019.
Aussie Adam Scott made an early charge on Sunday looking to post a score and get in the clubhouse. Scott shot a four-under 31 on the front nine but made a double bogey and two bogeys on the back, including at the par-4 16th where he missed a two-foot putt and sent it six feet past the hole. Scott finished tied with Louis Oosthuizen for seventh at six-under.
Rory McIlroy needed a Sunday like he had at the RBC Canadian Open, but that dream ended on the second hole with a double bogey, after getting snarled in the fescue left of the fairway.
McIlroy had six birdies on Sunday but also made two doubles and three bogeys en route to a one-over par 72, to finish at five-under for week in a tie for ninth with Henrik Stenson and Chesson Hadley.
TIGER KEEPS FIGHTING
Tiger Woods could have packed it in on Sunday after beginning the day out of contention and then proceeding to bogey four of his first six holes. He looked to be on his way to a score between 75 and 80. A number that — combined with his comments on Saturday about his neck being sore and every shot hurting — immediately would have led to another round of injury speculation.
Instead, Woods did what Woods does. He grinded it out and birdied six of his last 12 holes, to shoot a two-under 69, his lowest score of the week, and finish at two-under for the tournament in a tie for 21st.
“Yeah, just keep fighting,” he said after his round. “Just because I got off to a bad start doesn’t mean it’s over. Keep grinding, keep playing. And I was able to turn my round around today.”
Woods does not plan to play any tournaments before the British Open at Royal Portrush taking place on July 18-21.
“I’ve never been up to Portrush, and I’m looking forward to getting up there and taking a look at the golf course and trying to figure out,” Woods said.
Phil Mickelson had hopes of completing the career grand slam this week after more than his share of U.S. Open disappointments. It wasn’t to be. Mickelson finished the week at four-over par. “I don’t know what else to say,” he said after his round.“It’s not like I’m going to stop trying. I enjoy the challenge. But I thought this was a really good chance for me.” … Canada’s Nick Taylor shot a one-over 72 on Sunday to finish at two-over par in a tie for 43rd.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019