Woodland Worth His Win
Gary Woodland missed the cut when the US Open last visited Pebble Beach in 2010, a couple of 76s followed by a similarly short stay at the following year’s PGA Tour stop there making his returns to the Monterey Peninsula a little infrequent over the past decade. When he did go back in 2017 the big hitter tied for fifth at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am but promptly missed the cut the following year and skipped the event this February.
So for the American to return once more brimming with confidence and taking to Pebble like a photogenic seal on the rocks beneath its cliffs underlines just how impressive have been Woodland’s improvements to his game over the last 12 months.
Always a big hitter, this former baseball slugger needed all the accuracy of his iron play and short game finesse to claim his first major championship victory on Sunday night and his three-shot cushion over back-to-back defending champion Brooks Koepka was a testament to the work he has put in with coach Pete Cowen and putting guru Phil Kenyon since the English duo was hired in 2018.
The three-under-par, final-round 69 that took him past Tiger Woods’ Pebble Beach record 12-under winning total in 2000, was the work of a complete player, not a bomber who got lucky. It was exemplified by his three-wood second shot on the par-four 14th that will join Nicklaus’s 1-iron and the greenside chips from Toms Watson and Kite as this course’s iconic US Open moments.
Not bad for a player who had never finished higher than a tie for 23rd in eight previous US Opens. And there was more – the chip from the far end of the par-three 17th’s horseshoe green to inside three feet and the drained 25-foot birdie putt on the par-five 18th. That took Woodland to 13 under par and into the pantheon of US Open champions in style.
The next question is whether Woodland will add to the majors collection or remain a one-hit wonder. This was the first time in eight attempts he had converted a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour into victory but his new-found, all-around game and the confidence this win will bring suggests it won’t be the last.
The USGA gets back on track
“It’s nice to have the golf course set up fair again,” Tiger Woods said following his final-round 69 with a quote that will allow the blazers who run the US Open a warm fuzzy feeling for the rest of the summer.
It may not be the preference of either traditionalists or masochists who revel in the US Open setup in a way that punishes the good shots and bad ones in equal measure but, tired of getting stick from the golfers as they did at Shinnecock Hills last year, the tournament organisers gave themselves a break this year at Pebble Beach and made betting on this major less of a lucky dip.
By taking a cautious approach with plenty of water on the course and forgiving fairways, aided by the calm winds on this usually blustery section of the northern Californian Pacific coastline, we got a final leaderboard worthy of this great championship and a more than deserving winner.
Koepka Still The Game’s Top Dog
He may have come up short in his bid to become the first golfer to win three consecutive US Opens in 114 years, but in finishing runner-up to Gary Woodland Brooks Koepka underscored the view he was a player for the biggest occasions golf has to offer.
Although the world number failed to reel in the overnight leader, he gave it a good rattle on Sunday with birdies on four of his five holes and a miraculous par-save at the second to pile the pressure on Woodland. And though his hat-trick tilt faded as the birdies dried up on the back nine, Koepka will go into the US Open record books as the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s in this championship and not win. The American with Portrush man Rickie Elliott for his caddie is favourite for next month’s Open Championship and rightly so.
Second favourite for Royal Portrush is a certain Rory McIlroy, the four-time major champion whose wait for a first such title since the 2014 PGA Championship rolls over onto home soil when he will pitch up on the Antrim coast in four weeks.
A week after running away with the Canadian Open, a double bogey at the second hole was not what the Irishman had in mind at Pebble Beach as he began the day with hopes of reeling in the five-shot lead of 54-hole leader Woodland and McIlroy finished with a one-over 72 for a tie for ninth place, eight adrift of the champion. It was yet another top-10 finish, his PGA Tour-leading 11th of the season and if nothing else, McIlroy will be most people’s each-way banker at Portrush.
Another Major This Year for Tiger?
Having taken 11 years to leap from major number 14 to 15 in one of the greatest comebacks in golfing history, this year’s Masters champion has stalled somewhat since his epic Augusta National triumph in April.
Woods did not play again until the following month’s PGA Championship at Bethpage and it showed on the notoriously challenging Black course when in cool and damp of New York’s Long Island an out of sorts Tiger missed the cut.
When Woods was four over for his round after just five holes on Sunday at Pebble Beach, you would have been forgiven for wondering whether there was anything left in the tank for Tiger this year after the incredible high of his Masters success but a few hours later, he was back in the clubhouse with his best round of the week, six under for his last 12 holes and with a 69 on his card, his lowest final round at a US Open since 2009.
If that does not send Woods to Royal Portrush with energy restored for a fourth Open Championship victory nothing will.
Now We Have An Irish Open On Our Hands
After all the doom and gloom that met the decision by Rory McIlroy to skip his national open this year in a bid to fine-tune his Open Championship preparations, the final leaderboard at Pebble Beach will have given Dubai Duty Free Irish Open organisers, the European Tour, and tournament host Paul McGinley plenty of optimism for a great week at Lahinch in two weeks time.
No McIlroy? No problem, when Jon Rahm is on his way to the Co. Clare coast to reclaim the title he won at Portstewart in 2017 on the back of a tie for third place in the US Open. Also teeing it up at the famous Lahinch links will be South African Louis Oosthuizen, who tied for seventh at Pebble Beach and former Master champion Danny Willett, who confirmed his return to form after a couple of seasons of struggle with a tie for 12th at the weekend.
The birdie at the last sunk by Graeme McDowell capped an excellent return to Pebble for the 2010 US Open champion as the Portrush man secured a tie for 16th to continue his resurgence this season. And Shane Lowry’s good run of form following victory in Abu Dhabi in January and a runner-up finish behind McIlroy at the Canadian Open continued with a T28 at the US Open, one under for the week and encouraging ahead of his return home.
It all bodes well and who knows, the chance to tune up for Portrush on a genuine Irish links like Lahinch may appeal to some of the PGA Tour’s big beasts now their focus can turn towards The Open.