The stage is set on Sunday for another epic U.S. Open finish at Pebble Beach Golf Links. The only question is who will be the man to hog the spotlight in this 119th edition of the championship.
Chances are, going off history, it will be one of just eight players.
Gary Woodland, at 11-under-par 202, clings to a one-stroke lead over 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose. Only six others are within six strokes of Woodland’s pace. Unless someone has a little Arnold Palmer in him, everyone else is likely out of the mix. Palmer still holds the record for largest final-round comeback, which is seven strokes, making up that deficit in the 1960 championship at Cherry Hills. Johnny Miller came from six back in 1973 with a final-round 63 at Oakmont.
Woodland is the fifth player to shoot 202 or lower through 54 holes. The others are Rory McIlroy (199), Jim Furyk (200), and Ricky Barnes and Martin Kaymer (both 202). Only Barnes, in 2009 at Bethpage Black, did not win.
McIlroy, the 2011 champion, is among those top eight, by the way. He trails by five.
Here are three things to watch for in the final round:
The Key Stretch
Tiger Woods made up seven strokes on the final seven holes to win the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but that happened on a damp day in February when he could do anything – and often did. In Sunday’s pressure-packed final round of the U.S. Open, any player intending to rally had better do so out of the gate. It’s no secret that the first seven holes yield the best stretch for making birdies and making up some ground. The three easiest holes of the championship exist in that stretch: Nos. 6, 4 and 7, respectively. Danny Willett birdied four of the first seven on Saturday in his 4-under 67 that no one could equal. Woods himself summed the flow of scoring best, saying, “You have your opportunities the first seven holes to get after it. And after that, it's plod away.”
Putt for Glory
Five of the top six in strokes gained – putting are on the leader board, including Rose (first) and Woodland (third). That says quite a lot about one of the real keys to scoring at Pebble Beach. On the other end of the spectrum, 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson ranks in the top 10 in both driving and approach, but he’s 74th on the greens. While much was made of the small putting surfaces, suggesting that simply finding the greens would offer scoring chances, little was mentioned about the green slopes, which are tricky. A straight putt is almost unheard of. Of course, where a player leaves his approach often dictates his success with the flat stick. But a few players have been pouring them in from everywhere, including Chesson Hadley, Louis Oosthuizen and Matt Kuchar, who also are in contention. Enough said.
Always a great competition within the championship is the race for low amateur, and what a race it will be in Sunday’s final round. Stanford graduate Brandon Wu shot a third-round 71, even par, on Saturday for a 2-under 211 total, good for a tie for 17th overall. He leads U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland, the Oklahoma State All-American, by two strokes, while Chandler Eaton of Duke is four back. Hovland, who won his Amateur title last year at Pebble Beach, also shot 71, while Eaton had a 73. Hovland is turning pro after today’s final round. Reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, 17, the second-youngest to make the cut in the championship since World War II, struggled to an 84 on Saturday.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.