PEBBLE BEACH — Gary Woodland owns a two-stroke lead after 36 holes at the 2019 U.S. Open, but a host of formidable players on the leader board—like Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, two-time defending champ Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar and Aaron Wise—seemingly portends a wide-open weekend race.
However, according to recent history, this tournament is already wrapped up.
Save for last year's proceedings at Shinnecock Hills, when Saturday turned the score board on its head, only once in the past 12 U.S. Opens has the eventual winner not been leading or within one shot of the 36-hole lead. That was Webb Simpson at the 2012 event at the Olympic Club. The then-26-year-old Simpson was five shots back of Jim Furyk, David Toms and Tiger Woods in San Francisco, then put together back-to-back 68s to win the title by one.
Brooks Koepka was also five shots back last year, although—no one tell Brooks—that warrants somewhat of an asterisk, as the set-up was so severe in the afternoon that the final two groups finished a collective 31 over par.
By that metric, Woodland has to be feeling confident regarding his two-shot advantage. Just as enlightening is another stat that shows the rest of the field, save for one other player, are likely to be bystanders.
If we extend that range to within two shots of the lead, Koepka and Simpson remain the only two players to make a weekend charge and win a U.S. Open this century. In fact, the next time someone captured the national championship starting Saturday outside two shots was at Shinnecock in 1995, when Corey Pavin began his third round six back of leader Greg Norman.
In short, if the past is any indicator of the present, this tournament is down to two.
To be fair, as last summer showed, anything can happen on Saturday. Oosthuizen already has a major championships in his corner, McIlroy is coming off a heater in Canada and it remains unclear if Koepka is a human or a highly advanced cyborg. That the 35-year-old Woodland doesn't own a top-five major finish also allows a sense that the trophy is up for grabs.
Nevertheless, for aspiring gamblers out there, might want to grab Woodland (+450) and Rose (+500) while you can.