Add another deserving name to your major champion list. After a wild, up-and-down perfect major championship Sunday at Pebble Beach, Gary Woodland is your U.S. Open champion.
Playing from out front for the entire weekend, the big-hitting Kansan spoiled the Brooks Koepka threepeat, dropping this big putt on the 18th to seal his first ever major victory.
Gary Woodland birdied 18.— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) June 17, 2019
He won the US Open in style. pic.twitter.com/ImttHEa2Ld
It was a dramatic duel all afternoon (or evening, for east coasters) on the Monterey Peninsula, with Brooks Koepka trying to run down Woodland to pull off that three-peat at the U.S. Open for the first time in 114 (!) years. For awhile, it looked like it might happen — and it made for fantastic golf television. Koepka charged out of the gates with a ridiculous four birdies in the first five holes to eliminate the margin between he and the final pairing of Woodland and Justin Rose. I tossed out in the middle of the run the idea that he’s easily now the most compelling draw in golf that isn’t named Tiger. We’ll unpack all of that and what a ridiculous title defense this was a bit later.
But for the most part, our big burly Midwestern boy held serve. A couple front-side birds helped Woodland keep his lead, but some small stumbles to open the back nine allowed Koepka to get within a single shot as we headed to the closing stretch. Woodland didn’t look wounded, but he at least looked beatable in a way that he hadn’t over the balance of the tournament.
Then, we hit a switch. Shortly after it seemed like Brooks might be destined for the three-peat came the defining shot of the tournament. On the winding, uphill par-5 14th and after Koepka missed an opportunity to pick up a shot on the hole, Woodland threaded a cutting right-to-left driver to give himself just enough of a green light to think about being in the go-zone on a hole where many players elect to lay up. Straight uphill with the ball above his feet, Woodland hit a drawing 3-wood that landed just 15 feet from just-above-the-bunker pin and rolled to rest just off the green.
That sealed a birdie, and a two shot lead that would release some of the pressure as he headed to the closing stretch.
If you’re not familiar as a casual fan, this isn’t some random guy by any stretch. Woodland’s a very deserving major champion, with multiple tour wins and a profile that’s had him inside the top-30 in the world for the last year or so. There’s few wins that will be more popular among players on tour, and he instantly becomes a brandable, loveable face that fans will flock to. Woodland’s story beyond that is as good as any in professional golf. The former Washburn college basketball player took a circuitous route to a golf career, he’s been through some tough personal adversity, and is generally just an extremely likeable guy. I’m all in on becoming a #GaryGuy. So is Pat Mahomes. This is a good win for golf.
Now, we’ll turn our attention overseas to Portrush — where the Open Championship will wrap up the major season for the first time in modern history.
But for now, it’s a Gary party in Topeka.