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Woodland denies Koepka’s bid, wins U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

Gary Woodland posses with the trophy after winning the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Sunday, June 16, 2019, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Gary Woodland denied Brooks Koepka’s bold bid at history and made U.S. Open memories of his own Sunday with two clutch shots, a birdie putt on the final hole and that silver trophy in his hands at Pebble Beach.

Yeah, he’s got this.

Koepka, trying to match a 114-year-old record with his third straight U.S. Open, kept the pressure on until the very end. Woodland was just as unflappable and got better with each big moment he faced, whether it was a 3-wood from 263 yards or a lob wedge from the putting surface that will take its place with other big moments on the 17th hole of Pebble Beach.

Needing three putts to win, Woodland finished in style with a 30-foot birdie putt for a 2-under 69, giving him the lowest 72-hole score in six U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach and a three-shot victory over Koepka. 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. “Once that went in, it all came out of me. It’s special to finish it off here at Pebble Beach.”

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.

But he made Woodland earn every bit of his first major championship.

Clinging to a one-shot lead with more pressure than he has ever felt, Woodland seized control by going for the green on the par-5 14th hole with a 3-wood from 263 yards, narrowly clearing a cavernous bunker and setting up a simple up-and-down for a two-shot lead.

“The idea was to play for the win,” Woodland said. “I could have laid up. That 3-wood separated me a little bit.”

It was the shot of the tournament, until Woodland hit one even better.

He dropped the 5-iron from his hands when it sailed well to the right on the par-3 17th, the edge of the green with the pin 90 feet away over a hump. Up ahead on the par-5 18th, Koepka drilled a 3-iron just over the back of the green, leaving him a 50-foot chip for eagle to tie, with a birdie likely to do the trick considering what Woodland faced on the 17th.

Koepka chipped to 10 feet and narrowly missed the birdie putt. Woodland, unable to hit putter and get anywhere near the hole, opted to pitch it. He clipped it perfectly just over the hump, and it checked about 12 feet from the hole and trickled out to tap-in range.

“I was just trying to get it over that hump,” Woodland said. “I thought it had a chance to go in, but it’s not one I want over.”

That effectively ended the U.S. Open.

Woodland, a 35-year-old who played basketball for one year at Washburn before taking a golf scholarship at Kansas, is immensely popular with his peers, many of whom gathered behind the 18th to celebrate his first major with him.

His biggest moment of the year wasn’t any shot he hit. He starred in a viral video with Amy Bockerstette, a 20-year-old with Down Syndrome, during the Phoenix Open. Woodland invited her to play the par-3 16th, and Amy hit into a bunker, blasted onto the green and made the par putt, all the while saying, “You got this.” That was the message she sent Woodland on Saturday night.

Woodland played conservatively down the 18th and made one last birdie that only mattered in the record book. He was aware that Tiger Woods had a 12-under 272 during his historic rout at Pebble Beach in 2000, and he topped him.

That birdie put him at 13-under 271 and earned him $2.25 million, the richest payoff in golf.

The difference was Woods won by 15 shots and was the only player under par. With a marine layer blocking the sunshine, and no significant wind at Pebble Beach all week, 31 players finished under par.

Koepka started four shots behind in his bid to join Willie Anderson as the only players to go back-to-back-to-back in the toughest test in golf. He made up ground quickly with four birdies in five holes.

“I felt like, ‘We’ve got a ball game now,'” Koepka said.

He failed to get up-and-down from a bunker for birdie on the par-5 sixth, and missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-3 seventh. Still, he stayed within range, just like he wanted, knowing that anything could happen on the back nine of a U.S. Open.

Something wonderful happened to Woodland.

“Gary played a hell of a round today,” Koepka said. “Props to him to hang in there. To go out in style like that is pretty cool.”

Of the four other players who had a shot at three straight U.S. Opens, no one came closer than Koepka. He now has a victory in the PGA Championship and runner-up finishes in the Masters and U.S. Open.

Justin Rose was the only one who caught Woodland all day, with a birdie on the opening hole. Rose bogeyed from the bunker on No. 2 as Woodland birdied, and he never caught up. Rose fell out of the race with three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine. He shot 74 and shared third with Xander Schauffele (67), Jon Rahm (68) and Chez Reavie (71).

Woods birdied six of his last 12 holes and was never a factor. He tied for 21st, 11 shots behind.

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