U.S. Open 2019: The Sunday-at-Pebble-Beach Diary: Gary Woodland and the Magical Scrambles
10:11 a.m., Sunday: The debate raged Saturday night on Twitter, peaking when Gary Woodland made two absolutely ridiculous par saves on the 12th and 14th holes to stay atop the leader board: Was this man living a charmed life and strolling along the path of destiny, or were we witnessing the exact opposite? Yes, clearly the forces of luck and karma and kismet and providence were on his side, and yet … well, Chris Chaney put it best:
A golf tournament lasts four rounds, not three, and as miraculous as Woodland’s Saturday was, there was an undercurrent of impending disaster—a hint of the time when his luck would run out. It left open the real possibility that a Sunday collapse was coming. And if that transpired, well, the Saturday magic would look more like a kind of mirage—mixed in with a bit of torment—rather than serendipity
If he fell, it would open up some incredible storylines, from Brooks Koepka going five for his last nine in majors and treating his fellow professionals and the sport itself roughly like General Sherman treated the south during the Civil War, or Justin Rose capturing a much-deserved second major, or Rory McIlroy finally ending his five-year major drought. Orrrrr ... the Matt Kuchar Redemption Act, the Chez Reavie Shock-the-World Spectacular.
So here we are! Unlike the PGA Championship Diary and the Players Championship Diary, this one is back nine only ... Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are somehow playing in Durham, N.C., today in their rehab stints, and I cannot miss it. Sue me. I’ll be back around 7:30 eastern to take us home …
6:13 p.m.: Well, folks, it was 90+ degrees at the ballpark, Koepka and Rory were on my mind, and after I saw Judge hit a 2-RBI single in the second inning, I said, “enough’s enough.” And the minute I turn on the TV, what happens? Koepka nails a loooong birdie putt at the fifth, and somehow he’s already at 11 under?? And Woodland came out guns blazing too, and sits at -13 under??? FOLKS, I MADE THE RIGHT DECISION. LET’S GOOOOOO.
6:25 p.m.: Rory is on the seventh, he’s -5 and has absolutely no chance, but he just hit his wedge to kick-in distance and I’m extremely ready to believe that he’s going to birdie out, finish at -17 and win going away. This is the extent of my sickness.
6:28 p.m.: This feels like the kind of day where we’re going to see Rose narrowly miss a ton of long birdie putts, as he just did at the fifth, and stare at the sky with that quintessential repressed angst that passes for agony among English men.
6:32 p.m.: A lot of the experience of the rest of this round will be waiting for Woodland to make a really bad-slash-nervous mistake. Every time he has a short par putt, like his three-footer at five just now, I will be expecting him to boot it, fall to his knees and start shaking like he’s made of jelly. HOWEVER, judging by his facial expression right now (and his score), he’s handling things pretty well. And as we all know, facial science has never failed us.
6:40 p.m.: While I wait for the Woodland hiccup, it’s Koepka who misses a very makeable birdie putt on seven, which leads me to ask what is potentially a very dumb question: Is it possible to start too hot? Like, if you’re four under through five holes on Sunday at the U.S. Open, is it even possible to keep that torrid pace going if your name isn’t Johnny Miller? Or will you inevitably be like the coyote in the old roadrunner cartoons, and realize that you’ve been running on air for a little too long? If Brooks looks at the camera and holds up a sign that says “yipes!” just before making triple, we’ll have our answer.
6:44 p.m.: Viktor Hovland just set a U.S. Open 72-hole amateur record by finishing -4. Would you say this is … Viktor Hovland’s Opus??? (Slaps five with myself, gets thrown off cliffs at Pebble Beach.)
6:50 p.m.: Well, he didn’t hold up a sign saying “yipes!”, but Koepka just made bogey to fall to -10. It kinda/sorta feels like nobody is going to come close to -13 today, and that if Woodland can just keep his head through the back nine, he could win this thing. But that is easier said than done. In fact, it is very easily said … just a few keystrokes, by me, sitting here on my couch.
6:51 p.m.: For me? Adam Scott’s putting grip is still illegal. (Ducks.)
6:54 p.m.: Scott just yanked it OB on 13, and I hope you have all enjoyed his brief appearance in this diary. I was just kidding about the grip, by the way.
6:56 p.m.: Speaking of brief appearances, Tiger just finished at 69, and amazingly it’s his lowest final round at the U.S. Open since 2009. Time passes, seasons change.
7:12 p.m.: Let me just say, I am loving night-time golf here on the East Coast. Sunday nights are always a little depressing, but having major championship golf on TV until 10 p.m. is a glorious antidote to the end-of-weekend blues. It’s even nice on Saturdays, once you’re a boring mid-30s person like me who doesn’t do fun things anymore. I advocate for 100 percent West Coast majors.
7:21 p.m.: In my ongoing tradition of mentioning players exactly once before they have a terrible hole and take themselves out of contention, I would like to say the following: Louis Oosthuizen. And with that, Joe Buck has officially pronounced it a three-horse race. Can’t say I disagree. Death to all other horses.
7:23 p.m.: Woodland just hits a beautiful iron for his third shot on No. 9, and has a chance for another tough par save. If he can make the putt, the high-wire act continues, but to go back to the point I made at the start of this post, scrambling is going to get really, really hard on the back nine.
7:26 p.m.: Anndddd ... he misses it. Not a great way to close out the back nine, and it feels like a little bit of pressure here from either Rose or Koepka could send him reeling.
7:28 p.m.: Rory drops a BOMB on 11 to go -6, and folks, if he birdies out, he stands a GREAT chance to take this thing at -13. It could absolutely happen. It could. Hey, where’s everyone going? You didn’t even hear my Rory poem yet …
7:31 p.m.: Time for a personal confession: I design all my best cars while listening to “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, a dystopian song about the horrors of modern life.
7:35 p.m.: Koepka birdies 11, and folks, we have ourselves a tournament! The lead is down to one. Now that Woodland and Koepka are the two main characters, I want to point out how much they look alike, and point out that they missed a huge opportunity to confuse the hell out of everyone by wearing the same outfit today.
7:36 p.m.: Koepka and Woodland look so much alike that their impending duel is not too far off from the plot of the wonderful 1996 Michael Keaton vehicle Multiplicity.
7:45 p.m.: The quality of play is coming down a notch, as Koepka buries his tee shot on 12 in a bunker, and Rose and Woodland go into the thick rough off 11 tee. This is not unpredictable, considering the pressure, but it makes the outcome very unpredictable. Rose is a great test case—all week, it seems like he hasn’t quite had his “A game,” to use the old cliche, but he keeps managing to avoid disaster, and it almost feels like that makes him the most suited to take this thing. Then again, of the three, Koepka seems like the most capable of getting hot and reeling off two or three birdies in a row, which would be more than enough to win. These could be famous last words, but somehow Woodland seems like the least likely to win, even though he’s still leading. I just keep thinking that collapse is coming …
7:50 p.m.: Because I said that, Koepka just bogeyed 11, and Woodland just made an incredible approach from the rough on 10. Golf Nostradamus strikes again.
7:52 p.m.: Adam Scott’s putting stance looks like an old man with a bad back trying unsuccessfully to sweep a wounded bird off a sidewalk.
7:59 p.m.:__ Koepka’s shot from the bunker on 13 just now was the stuff U.S. Open victories are made from. He’ll have a birdie putt now, and it looked so much like his second straight bogey … or worse.
8:02 p.m.: Koepka misses his birdie, BUT Woodland has a monster of a par putt coming up … can Magical Mr. Scrambles keep up the death-defying salvation show? NOPE. One stroke lead yet again.
8:04 p.m.: This is definitely a three-horse race, with one potential dark horse in Xander Schauffele, who’s at -8 on 17 and needs to finish birdie-birdie to have any shot.
__8:05 p.m.: Wowwww … Justin Rose’s own scrambling streak ends with a really rough par putt that he missed on the right. Koepka, meanwhile, misses a huge chance when he can’t find the fairway on the par-5 14th. Feels like this tournament is begging someone to seize it, and nobody can quite do it yet.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
8:08 p.m.: I think Woodland’s collapsing, guys. A really poor drive on 13 leaves him far to the right in the thick stuff, and this feels like another bogey in the making. Koepka is safe in the fairway after his second shot on the par-5 14th, and we’re absolutely in two-shot-swing territory now.
8:13 p.m.: If Koepka can win this, he’ll have shown the capacity to take majors in a variety of ways, which even Tiger hasn’t really done. As of this morning, this one seemed really far-fetched, but a comeback win of this nature to take his third straight U.S. Open would be really legendary.
8:15 p.m.: But my how things change! Woodland hits a terrific rescue from out of nowhere, Koepka somehow dumps his short approach in the right rough, and Rose has officially lost whatever mojo he once had. Every single iron he hits is short, and it’s hard to imagine him stringing together a bunch of birdies … feels like “saving par” is his ceiling right now. I may need to stop forging false narratives until this one’s over...
8:19 p.m.: After all that talk, Woodland and Koepka both make par. Status quo. And the boa constrictor of major-championship pressure tightens. And that boa has taken most of the oxygen from Rose’s lungs, as he bogeys again to fall to -8. This horse race? It now has two horses.
8:29 p.m.: Gary Woodland is a man with STONES. GREAT BIG GOLF STONES. The balls it took to go for the 14th green in two with a 255-yard carry, in these circumstances … but speaking of balls, Koepka follows by making a very tough par on 15, and with three to go he’s still within range. But Woodland’s going to have a crack at eagle and an almost certain birdie, giving him a two-shot lead with four to play.
8:35 p.m.: I’m not saying this is a bad decision, necessarily, but we have really not seen many players beyond the three fighting for the championship. We had one Chez Reavie break a few minutes ago, but beyond that, you wouldn’t know anyone else was on the course.
8:36 p.m.: There’s the birdie for Woodland! Two shots, four to play. It’s a question of nerves now.
8:39 p.m.: For some reason, ProTracer doesn’t seem to work for Justin Rose. He’s like one of those people with weird electricity fields, where when he walks into a room the lights dim. He might be a ghost.
8:43: p.m.: Again, “famous last words” alert, but more and more I’m coming around to the idea I couldn’t embrace all day, which is that Woodland isn’t giving this one away. He took his enormous risk on 14, it paid off, and now he’s fully in play-it-safe-mode. Rose is out, Schauffele faded to -7, and it’s all down to whether Brooks can ignite some fireworks in his last two holes. It won’t be easy on 17, as he’s left himself a long birdie putt.
8:48 p.m.: Woodland just came a whisker away from ending this thing, as his 21-foot birdie putt broke away from the hole at the last possible moment. By the way, these guys are well behind the twosome ahead of them, which is probably down to Rose. But there’s a good chance they could still be on 16 when the group ahead of them finishes.
8:51 p.m.: Another par for Koepka on 17, which leaves just the famous 18th to do some last-minute damage and make Woodland sweat a little.
8:55 p.m.: This drive is everything for Koepka—he needs to give himself a shot of getting on in two. There have been zero eagles on 18 today, but that’s what he has to be thinking. As if to emphasize the point, Woodland plays another very safe shot into 16 green.
8:58 p.m.: Koepka takes 3-wood off the tee, and it’s a beauty. SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE.
9 p.m.: How did I just notice that Woodland is wearing American flag cleats? Presumptuous! The golf gods know no nation and will surely punish him! (I’m getting kinda delirious … the price you pay for West Coast golf.)
9:01 p.m.: Woodland’s doing everything he needs to do right now. A great lag yields another par, and he’s two holes away from glory.
9:04 p.m.: A decent 3-iron from Brooks into the 18th, but only decent—it runs off the back and he’ll need an up-and-down for birdie. But we can now pretty much guarantee that par-par gets the job done for Woodland.
9:08 p.m.: Oh man, that mission just became a little less possible, as Woodland puts his tee shot on 17 about a mile from the pin … still on the green, technically, but only in the sense that Alaska is on the same continent as Mexico. It doesn’t seem like he could even putt it …
9:09 p.m.: OK, OK … not spectacular from Brooks out of the rough, but he’s got a crack at birdie. Off the club it looked like it might stop about 20 feet short, but it ran down enough to be respectable.
9:10 p.m.: It’s so insane how much hangs in the balance right now. This thing could be tied within two minutes, or Woodland could be heading to 18 with a two-shot lead. And neither one would be at all surprising. How are these guys not visibly shaking?
9:11 p.m.: Woodland’s going to pitch …
9:12 p.m.: THE MAGIC IS WITHIN HIM! IT HAS NOT LEFT! I can’t believe how good that pitch was, hitting perfectly on the downslope and checking up perfectly by the hole. That’s legendary under the circumstances.
9:12 p.m.: And Koepka misses! My dad, who is watching me and knows nothing of golf, somehow called that he was going to miss right, based on his alignment. Which, of course, is impossible to see from the angle on TV, and is total nonsense. But it happened, and he’s insufferable right now.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
9:13 p.m.: By the way, this tournament is over.
9:15 p.m.: I really, really didn’t think Woodland could keep the insanity going for another day, but his 3-wood on 14 and that wedge on 17 are every bit as dramatic and jaw-dropping as his par saves on 12 and 14 yesterday. What a comprehensive, gutsy performance.
9:16 p.m.: “Woodland’s going to hit in the ocean … the Atlantic,” says my dad, who has stayed up about 2-3 hours too late at this point. “Write that in your little blog.” Fair enough, dad. It is Father’s Day.
9:23 p.m.: But he doesn’t hit in the ocean, Atlantic or Pacific—he makes a this-is-how-you-win-a-major bomb to make birdie and close out a U.S. Open victory that was somehow both dramatic and relentless. I don’t think we’ll see a scrambling performance like that in a major anytime soon, and while it looked lucky at times, nobody gets lucky for four days. Woodland was just rock solid at the most important moments, even after a few wayward shots put him in tough spots, and he deserves this. What’s more, with the grinding effort these guys put in on the back nine, and the way the course bit back at everyone but the champ, it ended up feeling like a classic U.S. Open against the odds.