Woodland denies Koepka with first US Open victory

3-wood shot key

AP Photo | Gary Woodland walks to the 18th green during Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Open.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — In front of Gary Woodland was a 263-yard shot to the scariest green on any par 5 at Pebble Beach, especially with a U.S. Open on the line. Behind him by one shot on the leaderboard was Brooks Koepka, the most dangerous figure in major championship golf these days.

The safe shot was to lay up on the 14th and take his chances with a wedge

“The idea was to play for the win,” Woodland said.

With an extra boost of confidence from his caddie — Brennan Little, who was on the bag for Mike Weir in his Masters victory — Woodland delivered the shot of his life with a 3-wood that narrowly cleared a bunker, settled on the edge of the green and set up a birdie that gave him the cushion he needed.

The rest was pure theater — a 90-foot pitch off the 17th green he nearly holed, a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 2-under 69 and a three-shot victory that denied Koepka’s bold bid to match a century-old record with a third straight U.S. Open.

Woodland’s pitch across the 17th green over a hump that checked and trickled to tap-in range effectively clinched it, taking its place with other big moments on the 17th green in the U.S. Open such as Jack Nicklaus and his 1-iron off the pin and Tom Watson’s chip-in birdie. It even got the attention of Nicklaus.

“Took a lot of guts,” Nicklaus said on Twitter.

Woodland had that it abundance, along with a message from an inspirational friend.

“You got this.”

Until Sunday, when he cradled the silver trophy at Pebble Beach, Woodland got more attention from one hole in a pro-am at the Phoenix Open. He was gracious and encouraging to Amy Bockerstette, a 20-year-old with Down Syndrome and sheer optimism. Woodland invited her to hit a shot on the par-3 16th (into a bunker). He wanted to blast it out of the sand but she said, “I got this.” She hit it out to 8 feet and made the putt. The PGA Tour-produced video has more than 20 million views.

“I told myself that a million times today,” Woodland said. “I’ve got this.”

Koepka didn’t make it easy, keeping the pressure on Woodland until the very end.

Both represent the modern athlete in golf. Both are unflappable.

Needing three putts to win, Woodland finished in style. He raised both arms in the air to salute the crowd, turned toward the Pacific and slammed down his fist.

“I never let myself get ahead,” Woodland said.

Koepka had to settle for a footnote in history. He closed with a 68, making him the first player with all four rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open without winning.

“It was awesome to come this close to going three in a row. It’s incredible,” Koepka said. “I didn’t really think about it until I was done on 18 and realized how close I actually was to not making history, but tying it, I guess you could say. Just wasn’t meant to be this week.”

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