There’s a new sheriff in town, as they say. That would be Gary Woodland, who, despite freshening breezes, decided to pound Pebble Beach Golf Links into submission on Friday. The power player from Kansas fired a 6-under 65 to overtake Justin Rose by two strokes for the 36-hole lead in the 119th U.S. Open.
Pebble Beach was far from a pushover, but some good scores emerged in the afternoon to heat up the competition on a chilly day. Woodland's was more a result of a hot putter than his ability to punish a golf ball as he tied Rose and Tiger Woods for lowest score in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Woods opened the 2000 championship with a 65, and Rose matched that score on Thursday.
Woodland, who has never finished in the top 10 in his eight previous U.S. Opens, sits at 9-under 133, two clear of Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner.
In all, it’s a rather handsome leader board with plenty of star power, including the likes of Rory McIlroy, the 2011 champion, and reigning two-time champion Brooks Koepka. But now the proceedings move into the sweaty-palms phase as the pressure begins to ratchet higher. Here are three things to know on what they call moving day.
Players are highly satisfied with the overall setup of Pebble Beach thus far. The word “fair” has been expressed fairly often. “I think this golf course has plenty of teeth in it,” said Justin Rose, who is competing in his 14th U.S. Open. “I think it’s right where it needs to be.” Fellow Englishman Paul Casey agreed, saying, “I don’t think they need to change a thing.” He added a caveat, however, echoed by several others. “They could get the greens a little faster. I expect they will.” Not only has the marine layer that moved in on Wednesday made the course a bit softer, but it also has resulted in greens that haven’t quite gotten to what one might consider U.S. Open speeds. Jim Furyk argued that some greens, like Nos. 6, 11 and 14, already are a shade quicker because they are perched and more exposed to the wind. “There’s that delicate balancing act,” said Furyk, the 2003 champion. “Where’s that sweet spot? Speed the greens up just a touch and things would get pretty interesting.”
On Friday, Tiger Woods made his first cut in the U.S. Open since 2013 at Merion after sitting out with injuries in 2014, ’16 and ’17 and missing the cut in 2015 and last year. After a 1-over 71, he is even par for the championship and needs a strong effort to get himself back in the thick of the chase. His third rounds haven’t been much to write home about in 20 U.S. Open starts, breaking par just five times. But two of those came in 2000 and 2010 here at Pebble Beach, the latter a 5-under 66 that lifted him into the penultimate group, five behind Dustin Johnson. Woods’ third-round scoring average this year is 69.17, ranked 20th on the PGA Tour. He leads the tour in greens in regulation, which ought to mean something at Pebble Beach with its tiny putting surfaces. In short, if he wants to have a shot at the title, he’d better start counterpunching.
Fives For Fighting
With only three par 5s at Pebble Beach – the second hole is playing as a par 4 this week, as it did for the U.S. Opens in 2000 and 2010 – the bigger hitters have one less opportunity to gain a stroke on the rest of the field. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a key to success. Ask Rickie Fowler, who fell off the leader board after playing the par 5s in 2 over in the second round. Only No. 6 is truly in the pushover category, ranking as the easiest hole for the week thus far, with more birdies than pars (134-133). But Nos. 18 and 14 are, respectively, the fourth- and fifth- easiest on the course, although by no means are they automatic chances to score. Nevertheless, best to take advantage of these holes. Birdies won’t result in gaining a lot of ground, but playing the par 5s well will mean at least keeping pace with the crowd.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.