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What was the biggest surprise to emerge from the 2019 major championships?

Gary Woodland, U.S. Open
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..

Hawk and Rude discuss their biggest surprise

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Jeff Rude are co-hosts of a weekly podcast, Hawk & Rude, in which they discuss and debate the hottest issues in golf. They also share their takes in this weekly installment.

What was the biggest surprise to emerge from the 2019 major championships?

John Hawkins Headshot
John Hawkins

Hawk’s take: The last two winners, but because we’re supposed to pick one, I’ll go with Gary Woodland’s U.S. Open triumph. Woodland’s odds of winning at Pebble Beach were 70-1, slightly higher than Shane Lowry’s 60-1 last week at Royal Portrush, but it’s about more than what the bookies think. Nobody had the Big Kansan in the office pool, including Mrs. Woodland, although I doubt she spends her days stuck behind a desk.

Lowry had something akin to a home-turf advantage at the British Open. Woodland was trending in the right direction heading to Pebble, but the USGA’s annual bloodfest doesn’t fancy bombers with three career victories in 10 PGA Tour seasons. A vastly improved short game went a long way toward making Woodland a major champion. Very few people were aware that he had sharpened those skills until he began showing them off on numerous occasions over the final 36 holes.

Factor in the pre-tournament hype, which focused largely on Tiger Woods, his legacy of success at Pebble Beach and his fifth Masters title just two months earlier, and Brooks Koepka’s two-year run of major dominance. If Woodland was on anybody’s radar that week, it was only as an unidentified flying object. That he held off Koepka with a superb Sunday performance amounts to a huge surprise that earned him the biggest prize.

Jeff Rude Headshot
Jeff Rude

Rude’s take: There were several unexpected developments. Long shots won the U.S. Open (Gary Woodland, 70-1 odds) and the British Open (Shane Lowry, 60-1). J.B. Holmes sank from third place to fourth from the bottom after a closing 87 at the British. Masters champion Tiger Woods prepared for the season’s final major by taking a two-week vacation, and Phil Mickelson got ready by going on a six-day coffee-and-water diet.

But the biggest surprise was Rory McIlroy.

The four-time major champion entered the Masters as an 8-1 favorite coming off six consecutive top-6 PGA Tour stroke-play finishes, including a Players Championship victory. But he tied for 21st at Augusta and postponed his career Grand Slam hopes for another year.

He was a top-4 favorite at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open. He did just slip into the top 10 in each but didn’t contend. He certainly expected more at the U.S. Open, having closed with a 61 in winning the RBC Canadian Open the Sunday before.

And he entered last week’s British Open in his home country of Northern Ireland as the 8-1 favorite but opened with 79 and missed the cut.