American Gary Woodland struggled to put into words the feeling of winning his first major title on Father’s Day after holding off the challenge of defending champion Brooks Koepka to win the 119th US Open.
Woodland carded a final round of 69 at Pebble Beach to finish 13 under par and three shots clear of Koepka, who had threatened to become just the second player to win three straight US Opens and claim an amazing fifth major victory in his last nine starts.
England’s Justin Rose was tied for the lead after a birdie on the opening hole but faded on the back nine to share third with Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Chez Reavie, while the expected challenge from Rory McIlroy never materialised after a double bogey on the second.
Woodland had failed to convert any of his seven 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour into a win, but the 35-year-old from Kansas withstood the stubborn challenge of Rose and early charge from Koepka to land the title and first prize of 2.25million US dollars.
Moments after holing the winning putt, Woodland embraced his mother and father behind the 18th green, while his wife Gabby was at home as she is expecting twin girls in August.
The couple lost one of the twins they were expecting two years ago and their surviving son Jaxson, who celebrates his second birthday next week, was born prematurely weighing just three pounds.
“But it’s nice to have my dad here. I would not be here without him. I probably did not realise how special it all was until I became a father.”
Koepka closed to within a shot of the lead for the first time with a birdie on the 11th, only to promptly bogey the next after finding sand off the tee.
Woodland was starting to feel the pressure and dropped his second shot in four holes on the 12th, but then struck what proved to be the vital blow with a stunning approach from 263 yards on the 14th which landed just over the greenside bunker and ran a few inches off the green.
From there, the world number 25 chipped to three feet and tapped in for his first birdie since the third hole and he effectively sealed victory with a sublime pitch from the corner of the 17th green which span to a halt just two feet from the hole.
Woodland, who has worked hard on his short game with renowned Yorkshire coach Pete Cowen, then put the icing on the cake by holing from 30 feet for birdie on the 18th.
“The drive on 14 was huge and then I hit a great second shot,” Woodland added.
“The idea was to play to win. I could have easily laid up but my caddie gave me a lot of confidence when he told me to hit 3-wood and that birdie kind of separated me a little bit.
“On 17 I had that shot earlier this week and it’s the second time I got it up and down. I would have taken four if I had to but it came off perfectly.”
Koepka, who has now finished first, second, first and second in his last four majors, was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “Gary played a helluva round today, props to him for the way he hung in there. It was pretty cool.
“When I was on 18 I realised I was that close to accomplishing something that has not been done in more than 100 years and that’s special, but I don’t think anybody in the world played as good as Gary did.”
Rose had relied heavily on his scrambling skills all week but was finally found out on the back nine as he dropped three shots in the space of four holes.
“I made three good saves at nine, 10 and 11 and I was right in the tournament but then just kept missing in the wrong spot,” Rose said.
“And the putter wasn’t quite as warm today as it was yesterday. It took a bit of a day off. But I felt like I had to have a day where I pieced everything together to win. It was close.
“But coming in, once momentum leaves you a little bit, it just becomes hard to grind it out.”
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Rory McIlroy admits he will need a great round to secure a second US Open title after struggling to find top gear at Pebble Beach.
McIlroy began the third round four shots off the lead held by Gary Woodland and ended it five adrift of the American after a low-key 70 featuring three birdies and two bogeys.
“I think it is in there. I definitely think I can shoot 65 or 66 on this golf course,” said McIlroy, who won the US Open by eight shots at Congressional in 2011 but has not lifted a major title since the 2014 US PGA.
“That’s probably what it is going to take tomorrow. Everything has got to be on. You’ve got to get off to a fast start, you’ve got to play the par fives well and you need to hit it in the fairways all day. It’s difficult. It is possible, but it is difficult.
“I’ve hit the ball in the fairway for the most part, I’ve been smart, I’ve hit to the right part of the greens. Today I felt like I didn’t get as much out the round as I could have but at the same time at a US Open, you have to hang around.
“As much as you like to think you get four opportunities a year to win these things (majors), you might only get one or two depending on how you play. I’ve got a little opportunity tomorrow.
“I’m obviously got some ground to make up, but at the same time, it’s tough. Leaders can make bogeys, make mistakes, and I’m going to have to rely on them doing that. But I need a great round out of myself.”
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Justin Rose trails Gary Woodland by a single shot heading into the final round of the US Open after watching the American defy the odds to remain in pole position at Pebble Beach.
Woodland chipped in for an unlikely par on the 12th and holed from 40 feet for another on the 14th, but Rose maintained his focus to birdie both holes as he seeks a second US Open title following his 2013 triumph at Merion.
Rose also birdied the 18th from a greenside bunker for the third day running to complete a 68 and finish 10 under par, with Woodland 11 under after carding three birdies and a solitary bogey in his 69.
“What I was pleased about was the tougher the shot, the better I seemed to play, and I’ll gain a bit of confidence from that tomorrow,” Rose said.
“I’ll do everything I can overnight and just keep what’s working well and try to hit one or two more fairways and greens. You can’t force it, you’ve got to let it happen and hopefully rely on some experience.”
World number one Brooks Koepka, who is aiming to become just the second player to win three consecutive US Open titles, is four shots off the lead alongside former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and American Chez Reavie, with Rory McIlroy another stroke back.
“Going into tomorrow, just stay patient. If you are within three shots on the back nine, anything can happen, so hang in there and keep fighting.”
McIlroy had wanted to plot a “boring” course to a second US Open title and got largely what he wished for, carding three birdies and two bogeys in a round of 70.
“Even though I’m still a few off the lead, it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to go out there and I guess try to add to my major tally,” said the Northern Irishman, whose last major victory was the 2014 US PGA Championship.
“I’ve been very pleased with how I’ve played all week. I felt, for the most part, today I did the right things and I need to do 18 more holes of that, but just get a little bit more out of the round tomorrow than I did today.
“I’m expecting the conditions to be similar, but I could see the course just getting a little firmer and a little faster and just being a touch trickier.”
The European quintet of Danny Willett, 2010 champion Graeme McDowell, Jon Rahm, Matt Wallace and Henrik Stenson are seven shots off the lead on four under.
Willett had set the early clubhouse target on four under, the former Masters champion carding six birdies and two bogeys in a round of 67, the lowest round of the day and his first sub-par round in 16 attempts at the US Open.
“The last few years the US Open has been a bombers’ paradise so this course evens out the field in that way,” Willett said.
“It does not favour any one type of player, so at the end of the week you are going to get the best player winning, as it should be.”
McDowell, who eagled the 18th from 35 feet in his round of 70, said: “It was really cool to make three there.
“I think Tiger (Woods) did something similar in 2010, from memory, hitting that three-wood from behind the tree. Mine wasn’t as fancy as that. It was a nice little cutty three-wood from 245 slightly to the right and came off nicely.
“Obviously I’m somewhat in the mix tomorrow, but I’ll need something pretty special.”
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