Gary Woodland
Gary Woodland of the United States plays a shot from the 14th tee during the third round of the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 15, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. Image Credit: AFP

Pebble Beach, California: The US Open is always won by Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. Except when it is won by Lucas Glover, Michael Campbell or Steve Jones.

Sam Snead never won the US Open, and Phil Mickelson hasn’t, either. But Retief Goosen, Lee Janzen and Andy North won it twice.

In just the past 50 years — an afternoon nap in golf time — Orville Moody, Lou Graham, Scott Simpson, Geoff Ogilvy, Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson have won the US Open, but none of them have won any other major. Neither did any of those players mentioned with mild disparagement in previous paragraphs.

Perhaps the most shocking of all US Open wins came in 1913 when a 20-year-old amateur, Francis Ouimet — who had a 10-year-old as his caddie — managed to beat Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, the guy whom your golf grip may be named after.

In short, the US Golf Association always meets its goal of “identifying the best golfer” with its stern tests — except in the many instances, including Jack Fleck, Ed Furgol, Lawson Little, Sam Parks and Olin Dutra, when its winners ranged from good players but unlikely champs to preposterous.

So when everyone you know, as well as everyone who has ever met any of the people you know, agrees that Brooks Koepka will win his third straight US Open on Sunday — which has been done only once, by Willie Anderson in 1903 (the year the Wright Brothers flew), 1904 and 1905 — you can tell them, “Not so fast.”

Next, they will proclaim that if Koepka, who is four behind Woodman, does not win, then surely the champ will be England’s Justin Rose, an elite veteran and US Open champ in 2013 who’s only one shot behind Woodburn.

That’s when you say, “It’s Gary Woodland — not Woodman or Woodburn.”

After his 68-65-69 work this week, Woodland brimmed with confidence, pointing to his improved short game in recent years as well as a feeling of “comfort” with the way Pebble Beach set up for his golfing eye.

“I’ve worked for this my whole life. I’ve always played [all] sports. I know what it takes to win,” said Woodland, who began college as a scholarship basketball player. “If I play the way I have been, the guys behind me are going to have to do something really, really special.”

In high school, where he was all-state [Kansas] in basketball on a team that won two state titles, Woodland once took a charge when an opponent was trying to dunk. Struck by a knee to the throat, he suffered a collapsed trachea, left on a stretcher and was rushed to the emergency room. “That was on Tuesday,” he said. “I scored 20 on Friday.”

In these days of depraved public morals, it is possible to place wagers on golf tournaments. Even if Ted Leonsis offers me my own prop bet on Woodland, I would demur. Instead, I will merely observe Sunday’s final round at Pebble Beach Golf Links, dateline Close-to-Heaven.

The way to bet is that something evil will befall the noble, gritty Woodland. In his first 27 starts in major championships, he never finished in the top 10. In his most recent three, he has been in the top 10 twice.

On the back nine in Saturday’s third round, Woodland did every wild and woolly thing you could imagine to endanger yourself here except drive 100 mph through the morning mist on the switchback cliffs of Big Sur. After a tap-in birdie at the par-4 11th hole to reach 11 under — a level below par that often prompts the USGA to post your face on “wanted” posters — Woodland’s wheels wobbled until he seemed to be running on his axles.

But his brilliant, heart-stopping stuntman recoveries kept him in the lead. At the par-3 12th hole, his tee shot stuck in a bunker bank at knee height, forcing Woodland to take a baseball swing. He shanked his improvisational recovery. But then he chipped in, his shot curving, hooking, trickling with a six-foot break right into the hole’s heart. That merited a major fist pump.

“Horrible — shanked that shot. I told myself, ‘Take your medicine,’” said Woodland, meaning be sure to make bogey and don’t compound your mistake. Instead, he watched his chip stay on the perfect line. “Nice that it went in.”

At the 13th, he missed the fairway, missed the green, then got up and down for a par save. However, at the 14th, he topped himself with the kind of shots that, to those who have watched dozens of Opens, often presages “shocking winner.”

— Washington Post


-11 Gary Woodland (USA) 68 65 69

-10 Justin Rose (England) 65 70 68

-7 Brooks Koepka (USA) 69 69 68

Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) 66 70 70

Chez Reavie (USA) 68 70 68

-6 Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland) 68 69 70

-5 Chesson Hadley (USA) 68 70 70

Matt Kuchar (USA) 69 69 70

-4 Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland) 69 70 70

Jon Rahm (Spain) 69 70 70

Henrik Stenson (Sweden) 68 71 70

Matt Wallace (England) 70 68 71

Danny Willett (England) 71 71 67