Gary Woodland no longer has to answer questions about an inability to close or win a major championship.
Entering Sunday’s final round of the 119th U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the 35-year-old from Topeka, Kan., was 0-for-7 when holding a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, and he had never finished better than a tie for 23rd in eight previous U.S. Opens.
That’s now all in the past.
Woodland holed a 30-foot birdie putt on Pebble Beach’s iconic par-5 closing hole to punctuate a three-stroke victory over two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, who was trying to become just the second player to win three consecutive U.S. Opens.
By carding a 2-under-par 69, Woodland became the fourth player to claim the U.S. Open title with four sub-70 rounds. He’s also the second Open winner at Pebble Beach to post a double-digit under-par score (13-under 271), joining Tiger Woods (12-under 272) who won the 2000 championship by a record 15 strokes.
“I just kept telling myself that records are meant to be broken,” said Woodland. “I’m [actually] more nervous right now than I was playing today.
“I didn't let myself get ahead at all today. Didn't ever let myself think the tournament was over.”
Four players – 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, Chez Reavie, Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele – shared third at 7-under 277. Rose started the day one stroke behind Woodland, only to fade over the final 11 holes in carding a 74. Major champions Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen tied for seventh (278).
“I played great,” said Koepka, who was hoping to join Willie Anderson (1903-05) as the only players to win three consecutive Opens. “Nothing I could do. Gary played a great four days. That's what you've got to do if you want to win a U.S. Open, win a major championship and hats off to him. Cool way to go out on 18, to make that bomb. He deserves it, he's worked hard and I'm happy for him.”
In the pantheon of heroic U.S. Open shots at Pebble Beach, there is Tom Kite holing out for a 2 on the par-3 seventh in 1992. There’s Jack Nicklaus’ 1-iron that hit the flagstick and stopped inches away in 1972, and Tom Watson’s miraculous hole-out from greenside rough on the same hole 10 years later.
You can add Woodland’s 265-yard, 3-wood second shot to the par-5 14th hole to that list. On a hole where most players were laying up, and just one eagle was recorded in the final round, Woodland decided it was time to be aggressive. At the time, he held a precarious one-stroke lead on Koepka and Rose was still in the chase.
The ball barely cleared the front greenside bunker and stopped in the rough just left of the green. His deftly executed pitch stopped 3½ feet from the flagstick, and he converted the birdie putt to extend his lead to two. Koepka never got closer the rest of the way.
“We sat there and thought about it for a while and said let's go, we're out here to win,” said Woodland of his decision to go for the green. “Played aggressive, and it paid off.”
There were other momentous shots down the stretch as well. On the par-3 17th hole, his tee shot wound up on the far-right side of the hourglass-shaped putting surface. Forced to pitch the ball to the back-left hole location, Woodland executed a perfect shot from 93 feet to 2½ feet to save par.
When Koepka missed a 9½-foot birdie putt on 18 that would have gotten him within one of the lead, Woodland could play the closing hole conservatively. With three putts to win the title, Woodland accomplished the feat with a birdie flourish. It was a fitting end to a glorious week for the Kansan, who was 169th in scrambling on the PGA Tour this season, but first this week.
All of his work with instructor Pete Cowen and putting coach Phil Kenyon came to fruition.
Many of his fellow PGA Tour professionals congratulated Woodland as he walked off No. 18 to the scoring trailer, including Koepka. His parents, Dan and Linda Woodland, were also in attendance, but wife Gabby and son, Jaxson, were back at their Florida residence. She is due with twin girls in August.
What a Father’s Day it turned out to be.
Runner-up Brooks Koepka became the first player to post four rounds in the 60s and not win.
Thirty-three of the 79 players bettered par in the final round. It was the fourth consecutive day with overcast skies and little wind.
Gary Woodland matched the mark for fewest bogeys or worse in a U.S. Open over the last 50 years with four (joining three players: winners Payne Stewart in 1991 and Rory McIlroy in 2011, and Bill Haas, T-5 in 2017, all of whom also had four).
Viktor Hovland capped off his amateur career in style by earning low-amateur honors by five strokes over Brandon Wu with a final-round 67, matching the lowest Round-4 score by an amateur (Deane Beman in 1962). His 4-under total of 280 was two strokes better than the amateur 72-hole record held by Jack Nicklaus (1960). He’s also the eighth player to be the low amateur in the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, and the first since Matt Kuchar in 1998. Other notables to achieve that feat include Phil Mickelson (1991) and Nicklaus (1961).
Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, and Marcus Kinhult, 22, of Sweden, each carded Sunday-best 66s. Simpson catapulted up the leader board from a tie for 41st to a share of 16th. Kinhult, whose sister, Frida, is No. 1 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, moved from a tie for 64th to a tie for 32nd.
Phil Mickelson turned 49 on Sunday and was serenaded with birthday wishes throughout his 1-over round of 72 (288 total). “It's pretty cool,” said Mickelson, a five-time winner of the annual AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. “The people here have been so nice to me and I’m very thankful.”
“It's nice to have my dad (Dan) here. Obviously, I've got my son at home who turns 2 next week. I've got identical twin girls on the way in a couple months. So it's a special day.” – Champion Gary Woodland
The 3-wood at 14 … gave me the confidence to even execute the shot on 17. To execute that shot under the pressure, under the situation, that shot gave me the confidence. Really going in I felt better after hitting that shot on the golf course today than I had in a long, long time.” – Woodland
“It doesn't sting. I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week – it happened at Augusta in April – it’s not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there.” – Runner-up Brooks Koepka
“It's obviously cool to perform such a thing. And I hope that I can feed off of this going into my professional career [next week] and do more things like this and be in contention of winning tournaments.” – Viktor Hovland on being the low amateur and breaking Jack Nicklaus’ 72-hole mark by an amateur
“Yeah, it's perfect. It's a perfect hard test. When you struggle a little bit or if you pull shots like I did, it's very penalizing. And the guys that are playing well it gives them a chance to separate and make some birdies and reward great shots. It was perfectly done.” – Phil Mickelson on the USGA’s setup of Pebble Beach
“It's been a crazy two, three weeks. I didn't really envision this, how to end my college career, just I thought I'd be taking exams and walking at graduation. I haven't been to school for a couple weeks now, but it's been surreal, for sure. Starting with that national championship, I could not have thought of a better way to end my Stanford career. That's something you only dream of.” – Amateur Brandon Wu on his U.S. Open experience
“It's amazing. It's a dream come true for a college golfer. It's just so cool to kind of be around … the best players in the world, and just see how my game stacks up and see where I need to go and what I need to do.” – Amateur Chandler Eaton on his first U.S. Open
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.