PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. – If winning golf’s national championship by two shots is good, three is all the better, as three-time PGA Tour winner Gary Woodland proved Sunday by winning his first major championship in the 119th U.S. Open.
He did so by providing the punctuation on a resilient victory with a 30-foot birdie putt he didn’t need at Pebble Beach Golf Links’ iconic seaside closing 18th hole.
Yet it provided the perfect moment of coronation on another cloudy, chilly day when Woodland denied Brooks Koepka’s bid to become the first man to win three consecutive U.S. Opens since a Scottish immigrant named Willie Anderson did so 114 years ago.
After the putt dropped for a final-round 2-under-par 69, Woodland raised his putter with his left hand, then did the same with his right as he turned back toward the grandstands behind that 18th green. He watched thousands of fans rise in unison, in celebration with him, before he unleashed a windmill punch directed low toward the cup.
“Just glad it was over,” said Woodland, a former baseball shortstop and basketball shooter with unlimited range who now at age 35 is the nation’s best golfer for 2019. “I didn’t let myself get ahead at all today, didn’t ever let myself think the tournament was over.”
Woodland knew Tiger Woods shot 12 under par when he won the 2000 U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes. That final putt did him one better than Tiger.
“Once that went in, it just all came out of me,” he said of his reaction.
Gone was that long major-championship chase. Gone was that 0-7 record when leading a PGA Tour event after 54 holes that he had always been unable to close.
Woodland, a native of Topeka, Kan., called his state of mind for four days contested over a Pebble Beach course that played fair and still dangerous “as good as it’s ever been,” no matter his history.
“I knew my record, 54-hole leader,” Woodland said. “People talk about it. I just told myself, ‘Records are made to be broken. Stay in it. It’s not over.’ ”
He persevered and won by those three strokes over Koepka, who became the only man in U.S. Open history to score in the 60s all four days and not win.
By winning, Woodland joins Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Woods and Graeme McDowell on the list of men who won U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach.
“It was special to finish it off here at Pebble Beach,” Woodland said.
First-round leader Justin Rose’s final-round 74 dropped the 2013 U.S. Open winner into a group of four players six shots behind Woodland, a group that also included Jon Rahm, Chez Reavie and Xander Schauffele.
Koepka birdied four of his first five holes and pulled within a shot of Woodland early on the back nine. But he parred all three par-5 holes and never got any closer. He started the day four shots behind Woodland.
That was one shot too many to overcome against Woodland, who has transformed himself through time from big hitter to all-around player.
“To come this close to three in a row is incredible, anytime you have the chance to go back-to-back-to-back,” said Koepka, who has also won the past two PGA Championships and was runner-up at this year’s Masters, meaning he has finished first or second in six of the past nine majors he has competed in.
“I didn’t think about it until after 18, until I realized how close I came to, not making history, but tying it. Gary played great. It just wasn’t meant to be this week.”
Woodland finished off Koepka and everyone else in Sunday’s closing holes, with a 3-wood struck from the 14th fairway that helped him birdie one of the par-5s that Koepka parred.
His caddie, Brennan Little, encouraged him to be bold.
“I was thinking of laying up,” Woodland said. “Him telling me to do that gave me confidence. That birdie separated me a little from Brooks.”
At the long, difficult par-3 17th, Woodland’s tee shot strayed to the right side of the shallow, figure-eight green and left him 91 feet away with no good clear way to get the ball near the hole.
It was a predicament he faced in an earlier round and this time solved for a par with a perfect chip from green’s edge.
“That 3-wood at 14 gave me the confidence to execute at 17,” Woodland said.
Woodland celebrated Father’s Day in the morning by FaceTiming back home his young son and wife Gabby, who is expecting identical twins in August.
He celebrated it again in the early evening by embracing his father, Dan, and mother, Linda, as he came off the 18th green.
“I’m more nervous right now than I was playing today,” he said during a post-round interview.