PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. – At a U.S. Open Championship that uncharacteristically has surrendered birdies and eagles by the bushel at cool, cloudy Pebble Beach, PGA Tour player Gary Woodland might treasure two pars saved Saturday should he hold onto a one-shot lead in Sunday’s final round.
A three-time tour winner seeking his first major title, Woodland’s 11-under-par score leads 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose by a shot and two-time defending U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka and two others by four.
Including Rose and Koepka, seven major-championship winners are within seven shots. Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, 2010 U.S. Open winner at Pebble Beach Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson and Danny Willett, whose 67 was Saturday’s low round, are there, too.
They do so after Woodland chunked five shots out of Pebble Beach’s gnarly rough on the par-3 12th hole and par-5 14th hole and still saved himself with a 34-foot chip from the fringe that curled and dropped, and a 42-foot putt uphill two holes later that did the same.
“Obviously, it’s not good to be out of position, but I wasn’t by much,” Woodland said. “I stayed within myself.”
He was tied for third place after three rounds at the 2018 PGA Championship in St. Louis and was paired with Tiger Woods for the final round. He shot 69 in the sound and fury that is playing alongside Woods, tied for sixth and learned an important lesson he applied Saturday, particularly when things threatened to go bad.
“I’ve never seen energy on a course like that,” said Woodland. “I slowed down a tiny bit today. I took a little extra deep breath and controlled myself really well.”
Now he’ll have to do it all over again Sunday, when he’ll be paired with Rose for a second consecutive day.
“I’ll be rested for tomorrow,” Woodland said. “I’m comfortable with my game. I’m playing good. We’re at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open.”
Rose was two shots back when he won his only major at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. When asked what it’ll take on Sunday this time around, Rose said it’ll take the same things Woodland will need.
“Commitment, focus, discipline and then a little bit of luck,” Rose said. “Making the right putt at the right time. You can’t force it to happen. You have to let it happen.”
Woodland’s 11-under 202 in the third-lowest 54-hole score in U.S. Open history.
Koepka is four shots behind, a year after he was tied with Daniel Berger, Tony Finau and Dustin Johnson after Johnson lost a four-shot, second-round lead by shooting a Saturday 77. On Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, Koepka won his second consecutive U.S. Open title by shooting a final-day 68.
He didn’t make a bogey on Saturday and made only one Friday.
Koepka called Saturday’s 68 “relatively stress-free” and considers himself well positioned still to become the only golfer to win three consecutive U.S. Open since Scottish immigrant Willie Anderson did so in 1905.
Johnson came from four shots behind to win in 2016 at Oakmont and Webb Simpson did the same in 2012 at the Olympic Club.
“Obviously, whatever I’m doing is working; having been in the position I’m in feels like almost every major right now,” said Koepka, who has won the last two U.S. Opens, the last two PGA Championships and finished second to Woods at the Masters in April. “I feel like I’ve put myself in good chances where I’m very comfortable. I don’t need to go out and chase. I don’t need to do much, just kind of let it come to you.”