Monday Finish: Woodland reaches new level with U.S. Open victory
Short game, self-belief hit career highs at Pebble Beach
June 17, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Gary Woodland claimed his first major championship victory at the U.S. Open. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Facing one of the most delicate shots in the game – a pitch off the putting surface over the ridge that bisects the 17th green – Gary Woodland taps into the resolve and positivity of a friend (Amy “I got this” Bockerstette) and stays cool under pressure from beginning to end to win the U.S. Open by three over two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka.
Welcome to the Monday Finish, where Woodland converted a 54-hole lead/co-lead into a victory for the first time in eight tries on the PGA TOUR, and signaled he has reached a whole new level of excellence as he jumped to fifth in the FedExCup.
1. Woodland is one-dimensional no more.
With his broad back and an athlete’s swagger, Woodland made no secret of his competitive advantage over the course of his first 244 starts on TOUR. He was strong. He was long.
Now he’s a lot more than that.
“It was just learning how to play golf,” the popular winner said after not only hanging onto his one-shot lead but extending it to three by the time the day was done.
There were plenty of reasons to doubt Woodland, starting with his seven failures to close out 54-hole leads/co-leads, extending to his streaky putting, and grinding to a halt at his pedestrian record at Pebble. (He shot 76-76 to miss the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open there, and had missed three cuts in four starts at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the other one a T5 in 2017.)
But this really was not the same guy. Woodland, 35, was unrelenting in his quest to improve. He already had one of the best coaches in the game in his corner in Butch Harmon, but found another in Pete Cowan, and yet another in putting specialist Phil Kenyon.
It was his work on the greens that stood out most as he captured his first major in his 31st career attempt. He made highlights with a 42-foot par save at the 14th hole Saturday, but was just as solid Sunday, even when his work on the greens meant swinging a sand wedge on 17.
In the end, Woodland made just four bogeys all week, tying a U.S. Open record, and was a career-best 2nd in Strokes Gained: Putting (+8.3).
2. It all started when he changed everything.
“You look at guys that are successful,” Woodland told the PGATOUR.COM prior to defending his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this season, “and you ask yourself: What are they doing that I’m not?”
And by “guys” he meant more than golfers. Frustrated by injuries and looking to change things up, he called friend Ray Allen, then with the Miami Heat. “Ray told me to come to Miami to come check out this guy named David Alexander,” Woodland said.
Alexander founded DBC Fitness, which stands for Dumbbells, Barbells and Cables, and boasts a deep roster of star athletes. DBC reshaped Woodland’s workouts, but also the way he ate, hydrated and even traveled. He even moved to South Florida (Delray Beach), which had the added benefit of facilitating further skull sessions with Alexander.
“It’s just changed everything,” Woodland said.
3. The Amy factor was huge.
The final piece of the puzzle was attitude, and there was some kismet involved in how that one came together. Woodland played a hole with Special Olympics athlete Amy Bockerstette at the Waste Management at TPC Scottsdale, and after coaching herself up with self-talk (“I got this”) Bockerstette made a par that went viral on social media.
Woodland made a friend who turned into more than that: an inspiration. Whenever things got tight at Pebble, and there were no shortage of such times, starting when Koepka birdied four of the first five holes ahead of him, he repeated those words from Amy in Phoenix: I got this.
“She’s meant everything for me from a mental standpoint,” he said.
4. Mighty Koepka just keeps on rolling.
Before he won his fourth major at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, Koepka said he didn’t see why he shouldn’t aim for at least 10 major victories. At the time his prediction likely struck a few listeners as perhaps a bit over-ambitious. But now—did he aim too low?
Koepka electrified fans with his hot start Sunday (he cooled and signed for a 68) and became the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open and not win. He has now finished either first or second in the last four majors, and doesn’t seem to be going away.
“It doesn’t sting,” said Koepka, who after birdies at four of the first five holes went 1 over the rest of the way. “I played great. Nothing I could do. Gary played great for four days. … He deserves it; he’s worked hard and I’m happy for him.”
5. Rose, McIlroy rue missed opportunities.
Reigning FedExCup champion Justin Rose started the day just a shot off the lead but struggled from tee to green and did well to limit the damage to a final-round 74 (T3).
“I didn't have my "A" game this week,” said Rose, who gave a memorable congratulatory fist-bump to Woodland after the latter player had hit perhaps the shot of the tournament on 17. “And to contend in a major with no game, really, I take the positive from that…”
Rory McIlroy, coming off a rousing victory at the RBC Canadian Open, had only an outside shot and needed to shoot a magical round. Instead, he doomed his chances with a double-bogey at the second hole, his first of several mistakes on the day, as he shot 72 to finish T9.
1. Woodland was just too good on the greens, ranking +8.29 in Strokes Gained: Putting. That gave him a significant advantage over runner-up Koepka (56th, +0.24).
2. Koepka distinguished himself, among other ways, by ranking first in Greens in Regulation (54/72) and T5 in Driving Distance (310.80). But Woodland was right there with him, ranking second in Greens in Regulation (52/72) and also T5 in Driving Distance.
3. The last 10 U.S. Opens have given us seven first-time major winners. Woodland, Koepka and Jordan Spieth are the only players to win a major by three or more shots in the last three seasons.
4. One reason for McIlroy’s inability to carry his form from the RBC Canadian Open (runaway victory) to the U.S. Open (72, T9): putting. He went from +2.80 in Strokes Gained: Putting on Thursday to -2.98 in that stat on Sunday, and ranked 54th for the week.
5. Victor Hovland (67, 4 under, T12) became the first player to win low-amateur honors at the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same season since 1998. The reigning U.S. Amateur champ will turn pro at the Travelers Championship this week.
The Wyndham Rewards Top 10 is in its first season and adds another layer of excitement to the FedExCup Regular Season. The top 10 players at the end of the FedExCup Regular Season will earn bonus payouts from the Wyndham Rewards Top 10.
Matt Kuchar (73, T16) remains No. 1, while U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland jumped from 9th to 5th. Meanwhile, friend and playing partner Justin Rose (74, T3), the reigning FedExCup champion, fought his game but nevertheless moved up a spot from 10th to 9th.
Rank Rank last week Player What Top 10 gets (End of Regular Season) 1st 1st Matt Kuchar $2 million 2nd 2nd Rory McIlroy $1.5 million 3rd 3rd Brooks Koepka $1.2 million 4th 4th Xander Schauffele $1.1 million 5th 9th Gary Woodland $1 million 6th 5th Dustin Johnson $850,000 7th 6th Patrick Cantlay $700,000 8th 7th Paul Casey $600,000 9th 10th Justin Rose $550,000 10th 8th Rickie Fowler $500,000