PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It was Monday afternoon of the U.S. Open, and Gary Woodland was on the practice putting green across from the Pebble Beach Lodge with short-game coach Phil Kenyon and caddie Brennan Little.
Kenyon is something of a putting guru, with major champions Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen among the many touring pros as his pupils.
Woodland joined the Kenyon clan at the British Open last year, knowing that he could not live up to his potential unless his short game matched his long game and ball-striking.
So, as you watched Woodland spend hours putting from different angles on the numerous holes, at times through two tees, there was Kenyon in his floppy white hat overseeing the session, providing direction and encouragement.
The work has paid dividends over the first two rounds here, with Woodland shooting a 6-under 65 on Friday for a 9-under total and two-stroke lead (scores).
Woodland played his best round in a U.S. Open, mostly because of his deft touch on the small and difficult greens at Pebble Beach Golf Links. He made putt after putt for birdie or to save par when needed.
“I played beautifully all day,” said Woodland, who recalled a key par save at the par-4 eighth hole, his 17th of the day. “I didn’t want to give a shot back.”
The show-stopper came at the end of his round. After a seemingly perfect drive on the 526-yard par-4 ninth, Woodland found that his ball had rolled into a divot hole.
With 217 yards to the flagstick, Woodland hit a 7-iron second shot onto the far-right part of the green, 49 feet 4 inches from the hole.
Coming off of a clutch up-and-down with a speedy 15-foot putt at No. 8, Woodland was brimming with confidence as he stood over the long birdie putt on his final hole. He called his sixth birdie of a bogey-free day a bonus.
Woodland has hit 78 percent of greens in regulation to rank second in the field. His plus-4.30 strokes gained putting ranks third.
Woodland can tap into some major-championship experience in recent years, notably when he played with Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive. Woodland recalled that he had to back off of a putt three times as the ground shook from all the fans moving after Woods had putted out.
With that experience, Woodland, 35, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, contends that he has the ability to finish off the next 36 holes and win his first major title.
“You learn to slow your breathing,” said Woodland, who will be in today’s final pairing (tee times). “Adrenaline is a huge deal. All of the sudden, you start hitting the golf ball a little bit farther. You learn to stay within yourself and why you have to do to calm yourself down and stay with your game plan.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli