Gary Woodland is the 2019 U.S. Open Champion!
For being the 54-hole leader, though, the 35-year-old from Kansas was not given much of a chance. And there may have been good reason for that. Woodland had never won a major before, and a T23 in 2011, which was 17 strokes behind the winner, was his only U.S. Open result inside the top 35. He had won three times on the PGA Tour, but had shown shakiness with the lead: he was 0 for 7 in his career while holding the 54-hole advantage.
Then there was the competition. Nipping at Woodland’s heels was World No. 4 Justin Rose, a former U.S. Open winner with six worldwide victories in the past two-and-a-half years. There was World No. 3 Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner who once won a U.S. Open by eight strokes and was coming in hot after a dominant victory a week ago where he just barely missed shooting a Sunday 59.
There was Louis Oosthuizen, a major championship staple who once won the Open Championship by seven strokes and has finished inside the top-2 in all four majors.
Oh yeah, and there was also World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, the winner of this event that past two years, who has also won four majors in the past 23 months, including the PGA Championship just last month.
None of them were any match for Woodland, however, who hit clutch shot after clutch shot all week, and looked unshakable during a final-round 2-under 69 that secured him the iconic sterling silver trophy by three strokes over an extremely determined Koepka, who was attempting to pull off the U.S. Open’s first three-peat since 1905.
Going into Sunday, Woodland’s lead over Rose was just one, and his lead over Koepka, Oosthuizen, and the unheralded Chez Reavie was four. The big games came out early, though, giving a strong challenge to Woodland. Koepka birdied four of his first five holes, Oosthuizen birdied two of the first four, and Rose stayed steady. Despite all that was being thrown at him, however, Woodland showed the composure of a champion, carding birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 to stay out ahead.
After that initial burst, things would settle down. Particularly on the early part of the back nine, as both Rose and Oosthuizen collapsed, while Koepka plateaued. But when Woodland played Nos. 4-13 in 2-over, his lead over the major king was shaved to a single stroke with five holes to go.
The par-5 14th hole proved to be a turning point for the event. Koepka carded a disappointing par-5 in the group ahead of Woodland, who followed with the shot of the tournament (at least for another three holes), striping an incredible 3-wood off the deck with his second shot that snuck onto the left edge of the green, which he was able to convert for birdie to move two ahead.
After landing on the fairway on the par-5 18th, Koepka hoped to gain at least a shot on Woodland on the final hole. He flushed his approach shot, however, sending it through the green. He then hit a poor chip from a sticky lie and then uncharacteristically missed a makeable birdie putt to finish with a par and post at 10-under, in the process becoming the first player in U.S. Open history to shoot four rounds in the 60s and lose.
Koepka hoped to stay in the match, but a hole behind, Woodland did hit best clutch work yet. He hit a terrible tee shot into the par-3 17th green, landing on the hourglass green, but about as far away from the hole as possible, and in a spot that could not be reached with a putter. With a bogey looking like a strong possibility, Woodland nearly holed his long chip shot off the green, and then tapped in for par.
With a two-stroke lead on the final tee, Woodland calmly reached the green in three shots. Needing just three putts to win from more than 30 feet, he decided to just sink the putt in one, closing with a birdie and winning by three.
This year’s U.S. Open was very un-U.S. Open-like. Hyped as the most difficult test in golf, scores were shocking low as a Pebble Beach that usually plays very tough on the big stage was vulnerable when the characteristic high winds were largely absent.
In the last two U.S. Opens at Pebble combined, just one player out of 312 finished under par. In this year’s edition? 34 players were 1-under or better.
Still, everyone had to play the same course, and this week, Gary Woodland was unequivocally the best.
2019 U.S. Open: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Gary Woodland -13 (-2)
2. Brooks Koepka -10 (-3)
3. Justin Rose -7 (+3)
3. Jon Rahm -7 (-3)
3. Chez Reavie -7 (E)
3. Xander Schauffele -7 (-4)
7. Adam Scott -6 (-3)
7. Louis Oosthuizen -6 (+1)
9. Henrik Stenson -5 (-1)
9. Chesson Hadley -5 (E)
9. Rory McIlroy -5 (+1)
12. Viktor Hovland (a), Matt Wallace, Danny Willett -4
16. Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar -3
21. Paul Casey, Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay -2
28. Jim Furyk -1
32. Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel E
35. Aaron Wise, Bryson DeChambeau, Marc Leishman, Martin Kaymer +1
43. Rickie Fowler +2
52. Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia +4
58. Zach Johnson +5
65. Tommy Fleetwood, Jordan Spieth +6
How Gary Woodland Won The U.S. Open
Woodland has a reputation for being a bomber, which is justified seeing as he has finished inside the top 20 on Tour in driving distance in every season of his 11-year career, but this week, it was largely what he did after his tees shots that made him a first-time major champion.
If it seemed like Woodland was racking up par-save after par-save, it’s because he was. For the entire week, he carded just four bogeys, which is unheard of for a U.S. Open. He hit a lot of greens, finishing second in the field in greens in regulation, but when he did miss, he found his way back, as evidenced by his leading the field in scrambling.
For the week, he was also third in strokes gained: approach-the-green, sixth in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and fourth in strokes gained: putting. He has never been a phenomenal putter, at least over the course of an entire season, and he’s been pretty miserable in that regard this year (150th on tour in strokes gained: putting), but at least for this week, that part of his game really came together.
Woodland also won despite not coming into the week in the best of form. He had two runner-ups on the season, but those came in October and early January, respectively (in the former, he was runner-up to Koepka). His early season momentum had tailed off badly since the end of February, as his only great result was a T8 at the PGA Championship where he was never in contention, having rocketed up the leaderboard late with a strong Sunday showing.
In his most recent start, he had finished T52 at The Memorial. Being able to work out the kinks for a stage like this is very impressive.
Woodland’s Topline Stats:
Driving: 310.8 yards (5th)
Fairways: 40/56, 71.43% (22nd)
Greens: 52/72, 72.22% (2nd)
Putts: 1.53 (19th)
What It Means For Woodland
Woodland’s talent has been undeniable for some time, but he tends to be streaky, and he had previously been shaky in contention. The confidence boost from a win like this could catalyze many more. Eight of the past 11 U.S. Open champions have now been first-time major winners, and among those who Woodland joined in that regard were Koepka, McIlroy, and Dustin Johnson, the current top 3 players in the world rankings.
Coming into the week, Woodland was No. 25 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and with his first major title will rocket past his previous high of 22nd, and up to the 11th position. He has yet to play in a Ryder Cup, or a Presidents Cup, but he’s likely clinched himself a spot on this year’s Presidents Cup team.
For a man who originally went to college on a basketball scholarship… not too bad.
Woodland’s 2019 PGA Tour Season
Missed Cuts: 1
Wins: 1 (U.S. Open)
Addtl Top 10s: 7
Money Earned: $5,556,461 (4th)
FedExCup Pts: 1,789 (4th)
World Rank Before/After: 25/12
Tiger Finishes Hot
There is always a lot of hype surrounding Tiger Woods going into a major, but it was special this week, as the 43-year-old won The Masters two months ago. In addition, Pebble Beach was the host course when Tiger won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes back in 2000, the most famous win of his career and the event that best exemplifies his historical dominance.
Most of the week, Tiger was nothing special. A decent opening-round 1-under 70 was followed by a 1-over 72 on Friday where he limped to the finish line. Needing an unbelievable score on Saturday to get back into contention, Tiger mixed five birdies with five bogeys for an even-par 71.
Starting the final round 11 strokes off the pace, Tiger was not going to win his fourth U.S. Open, but, for at least 12 holes, the magic was back. It sure was not there for the first six holes though: Tiger bogeyed four of them and his body language was awful.
Then, something clicked. He birdied Nos. 7 and 8, and then he played the back-nine to a bogey-free 4-under to finish with a 69 and a 2-under par for the tournament. It was good for a respectable T21.
Phil’s Unhappy Birthday
Coming into the week, Phil Mickelson was hoping his 49th birthday, which fell on U.S. Open Sunday this year, would be the day he FINALLY won the event that he has finished runner-up at six times; the only grand slam event he had yet to win. It helped his chances that this event was taking place on a course where Phil won earlier this year (the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), although majors play much differently than regular Tour events.
Well, it did not happen that way. A pedestrian 1-over 72 put him behind the 8-ball early, but at one point on Friday, he looked like he could get into the mix before bogeys on two of his final three holes turned an excellent round into merely a good one. He collapsed over the final five holes on Saturday to end any hope.
He started Sunday well back, and despite playing his first eight holes in 2-under, he ended up shooting a 1-over 72, his third over-par round of the week, dropping him into a tie for 52nd. However, a 72 is not as bad as it could have been: Phil hit just half his fairways (7/14) and a third of his greens (6/18).
While Mickelson seems to be much younger than 49 in “golf shape”, there is a sense that his best last chance at a U.S. Open might have come and gone. Next year’s U.S. Open takes place at Winged Foot, the site of his most notable Open collapse, when he led on the 72nd tee box before a double-bogey left him one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy. It seems extrmeley remote in his current form, but it would be one heck of a redemption story if he were able to complete the career Grand Slam there.
In the 2012 U.S. Open, Webb Simpson won his first career major championship by posting a very low score from behind while the leaders crumbled. On Sunday, Simpson shot a 5-under 66, which tied little-known Swede Marcus Kinhult, for the lowest score in the Sunday field.
Unfortunately for Simpson, it was not enough to get him into contention, but he did finish in a tie for 16th, his sixth top-20 in his last seven majors.
In recent years, other than Brooks contending, the least surprising site in majors has been seeing Xander Schauffele in contention. An opening-round 66 lost a bit of luster after a second-round 73, but after four birdies in his first six holes, the 25-year-old, who won the Tour Championship two years ago as a rookie, was again in the championship mix.
After a 4-under front nine, he swapped two birdies with two bogeys on the back, but his 4-under 67 was one of the best rounds of the day, and at 7-under he finished in a tie for third place.
Schauffele is still looking for his first major championship, but he has an absurd five finishes of 6th or better in just 10 major starts, including runner-ups at this year’s Masters and last year’s Open Championship.
Adam Scott has found himself in the mix in a number of recent majors, and a with a strong Sunday effort, he now has finished inside the top 17 of his past five major starts. Despite two bogeys and a double among his final six holes, the 38-year-old Aussie was so strong early that he still shot a 3-under 68, which temporarily had him in contention before he finished in a share of 7th place. Scott finished the week third in greens in regulation and third in birdies.
Rory McIlroy is in the midst of an absurdly good season, and after a dominant Sunday at last week’s RBC Canadian Open, he was a favorite coming into this week. He was at 6-under through three rounds and was believed to be one of Woodland’s toughest Sunday contenders, but it was a tough a final round for the man who has struggled to close majors since he won his fourth at the PGA Championship in 2014.
McIlroy carded six birdies on Sunday and STILL finished 1-over par, as he struggled to find any consistency. A double-bogey on the 2nd hole knocked him back early, and he was unable to get himself back into the mix.
At T9, McIlroy now has an incredible 11 top-10s in 14 PGA Tour events this year, including two wins, but he is feeling the pressure to end a surprising major drought.
Despite McIlroy’s insanely good season, he is trailing in the FedExCup Standings to current leader Matt Kuchar, who has led for most of the year. At 40 years old, Kuchar desperately is looking for his first major victory, but he was an enormous disappointment on Sunday. He started the day six strokes behind Woodland, so he needed a special round, but he had reached 4-over through 13 holes before a few late birdies made the final result look less bad: a 2-under 73 that put him in a share of 16th place.
Graeme McDowell was the winner the last time the U.S. Open was held at Pebble Beach (in 2010). The Northern Irishman has struggled to find that major form since his breakthrough victory, but looked comfortable through three days in this year’s edition, posting slightly under-par rounds in each of the first three rounds.
Sunday was much more difficult, however. Paired with Kuchar, McDowell played his first 11 holes in a birdie-free 3-over par. He carded four birdies over his final seven holes (combined with two bogeys), but the end result was still a round of 1-over that knocked him out of the top 10, and into a tie with Kuchar for 16th place.
Still, it was McDowell’s fourth top-20 finish in his last six starts, highlighted by a win at Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, which has allowed him to crack the world top-100 for the first time in three seasons, landing at No. 89 on Sunday evening.
The future looks very bright for Viktor Hovland. The 21-year-old Norwegian amateur from Okalahoma State was in phenomenal form on Sunday, shooting a 4-under 67 that was bettered by only two men in the field.
The world’s No. 1 ranked amateur made the U.S. Open field after winning last year’s U.S. Amateur. He was also the low amateur at this year’s Masters, and replicated that feat at Pebble Beach, finishing 4-under for the week, good for a share of 12th place.
Hovland’s finishing score at the U.S. Open broke the amateur record set by the legendary Jack Nicklaus at the 1960 U.S. Open. Not to take anything away from Hovland, but it should be noted that in that 1960 Open, while Nicklaus finished with a lower score, he was runner-up, finishing just two strokes back of Arnold Palmer, in a year where only 8 players were under par (31 players under par this year).
Being an amateur, Hovland had to forfeit the $226,609 check awarded to the others T12 finishers, but he plans to turn pro this week, and is likely to have a very lucrative career. He will make his professional debut this week at the Traveler’s Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut.
“I’ve worked hard my whole life. I’ve been surrounded by amazing people and I always just wanted to be successful. I didn’t know what it was, what I was going to do. I fell in love with golf, and it’s transcended to today. And it all kind of came out of me. I never kind of let myself get ahead, just told myself it’s never over, and when the last putt went in, it all came out. I was more nervous afterwards than I was at all today. I’m glad it’s over with.”
– Gary Woodland, 2019 U.S. Open Champion