Two defining moments for Woodland in final round of US Open
When it comes to the final round of an event like the United States Open there can often be one shot that the winner will be remembered for.
But in the case of last month’s US Open winner Gary Woodland, there were two shots of great significance.
The first of them came on the par five 14th hole.
Woodland decided to go for the green with his second shot with three wood from 240 metres.
The degree of difficulty was not so much the distance but a cavernous bunker that guarded the pin position and the fact that, at the time, he was clinging to a one-shot lead.
Woodland’s ball barely cleared the bunker and it finished just beyond the back of the green. It provided Woodland with a relatively simple up-and-down for birdie, which he achieved.
A television commentator couldn’t contain himself as the shot was made.
“What a shot that is. That takes a lot of guts,’’ the commentator said.
Woodland admitted afterwards it was a deliberate move to increase his lead.
“The idea was to play for the win,” Woodland said. “I could have laid up. That three wood separated me a little bit.”
It was the shot of the tournament — until Woodland hit one even better.
That came at the tricky par three 17th hole of 200m.
Woodland hit five iron — that’s what you use from 200m, don’t you? — but he dropped the club from his hands in disappointment as the ball sailed well to the right on the edge of the green with the pin 90 feet away over a hump.
The putter was not a choice as the edge of the green narrowed so Woodland pulled out a lob wedge to go over it.
From the moment Woodland crisply hit the ball the television commentators were again getting excited.
“Sounded great,’’ said one commentator.
As the ball rolled towards the hole another commentator said: “Oh, look at this shot.”
The ball did not go in the hole but it nestled inches away and left Woodland with a tap in for par.
“I think that trumps the three wood on 14,’’ a commentator said.
Woodland later admitted the lob wedge was a nervous moment for him.
“I was just trying to get it over that hump,” Woodland said. “I thought it had a chance to go in, but it’s not one I want over.”
That shot effectively ended the US Open.
Woodland went to the last hole, a par five, with a two-shot lead. He played the hole conservatively, reaching the green in three which provided him with the luxury of three putts to win from 30 feet.
But just to put an exclamation mark on the victory his first putt went in the hole with the crowd roaring in appreciation.
Woodland raised both arms in the air to salute the crowd, turned toward the Pacific Ocean and slammed down his fist.
It was the 35-year-old’s first win in a major championship and gave him the winner’s prize of $US2.25 million with a score of 13 under par.
Woodland’s game had been on the improve leading up to the US Open, entering the tournament ranked as the world No 25.
But one huge issue remained. Woodland had seldom won. And he never even got close in a major championship.
In his 13 years as a professional, he had only won three PGA Tour events. The first 27 times he entered major championships, he never cracked the top 10. In two of his previous three majors, he improved to tied for sixth and eighth. But never a top-five finish.
Asked whether he had ever allowed himself to dream of victory, he answered, “No, I never did. That’s as good as I’ve ever been.”
Oddly enough Woodland’s main rival on the last day was his look-a-like Brooks Koepka who finished second and became first to shoot four rounds in the 60s at the US Open (69-69-69-68) and not win.
Koepka, who had won the two previous US Opens, paid tribute to Woodland.
“Gary played a hell of a round today,” Koepka said. “Props to him to hang in there. To go out in style like that is pretty cool.”
Woodland was a late-starter in becoming a golf obsessive. He played basketball and baseball in his teens and has been playing catch-up with players who were fanatics at age 10, while he wasn’t focused until college.
After his win, Woodland commiserated with Koepka, teasingly telling him: “You need to slow down. All day you were knocking on the door.”
Part of the tradition of the US Open is the connection to Father’s Day in the United States. Two years previous, when Woodland’s wife, Gabby, was pregnant with twins, one of the children died in a miscarriage, but Jaxson Lynn Woodland, who arrived 10 weeks early, is now a healthy two-year-old. In August, the Woodlands are expecting twin girls.
“Then life is going to get really real,” said Woodland.
What the winner receives
Among the benefits enjoyed by the US Open winner are:
A US Open exemption for the next 10 years
An invitation to the next five US Masters tournaments
An invitation to the next five Open Championships, conducted by The R&A
An invitation to the next five PGA Championships
An invitation to the next five Players’ Championships
Exempt status on the PGA Tour for five years.
Future US Opens
The US Open roster for the next eight years is:
June 18-21, 2020: Winged Foot Golf Club (West Course), Mamaroneck, New York
June 17-20, 2021: Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course), San Diego, California
June 16-19, 2022: The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts
June 15-18, 2023: Los Angeles (California) Country Club (North Course)
June 13-16, 2024: Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina
June 12-15, 2025: Oakmont (Pennysylvania) Country Club
June 18-21, 2026: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, New York
June 17-20, 2027: Pebble Beach (California) Golf Links