PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It seemed that a Gary Woodland victory was ordained by the golfing gods on Saturday as he created pars from bogeys in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Then, the realization hit that it’s only Saturday and what happened in the third round might mean little today.
At 35, Woodland, who holds a one-stroke edge on Justin Rose (scores), will enter an arena and a situation that he never has faced before today.
A late bloomer who focused on other sports, notably basketball, as a youngster, Woodland honed a tenacity from other fields, which he will summon for today’s final 18 holes. One incident stands out from high school basketball.
“Took a knee, collapsed my trachea, left on a stretcher,” Woodland said. “That was on a Tuesday and scored 20-some points on Friday, was player of the week. So, I remember that. That guy was trying to dunk on me.”
On Saturday, Woodland showed that same tenacity.
© USGA/J.D. CUBAN
Gary Woodland celebrates a pivotal par save on the 12th hole during the 3rd round of the U.S. Open on Saturday at Pebble Beach..
It started on the par-3 12th hole when Woodland hit a tee shot that he thinks caught a gust of wind and landed short of the green, atop a bunker face, in high grass.
With Woodland standing in the bunker, holding a wedge on the bottom of the grip, the ball squirted sideways off the hosel, into the rough. Facing a long chip left and with playing competitor Justin Rose close for birdie, a two-shot swing seemed inevitable. However, Woodland caught a break when his chip shot moved 2 feet from right to left and fell into the hole for an improbable par. In a rare burst of emotion, Woodland reacted with a fist pump.
Rose made the birdie putt, but Woodland gave up only one shot.
On the par-5 14th hole, Woodland lost his footing on his tee shot as his right foot slipped, sending his drive right, into thick rough. After further struggles on possibly his worst hole of the week, Woodland faced a par putt of 42 feet 9 inches. When the ball rolled up the hill and into the cup, the hand of fate appeared to have intervened again.
That knee in the throat taught Woodland a valuable lesson years ago.
“If I'm not shooting well, I can pass; I can play defense,” said Woodland, making a basketball analogy. “There's other things I can do. I can take that to golf. If I'm not driving the golf ball, now I can rely on something else to really get me through. It took me a while to get my game to that position, but I feel like I'm comfortable doing that now.”
Woodland didn’t win his first major championship on Saturday, but he has shown the ability to get it done.
Winning a major sets a golfer apart from his peers. For virtually all major champions, the event is the pinnacle of their careers.
Woodland said he is ready to take the next step.
“Everything that I've been doing, I worked for this my whole life,” Woodland said. “I've trained since I started walking. I've played sports; I've competed; I've learned how to win, even if I haven't done it as much as I'd like. I know what it takes to win. And my game is in a great spot. I'm at a beautiful golf course. I came here to win, and that's what we're going out to do tomorrow.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli