Gary Woodland completes transformation to win US Open at Pebble Beach

Gary Woodland celebrates winning the US Open at Pebble Beach
Gary Woodland celebrates winning the US Open at Pebble Beach

The Transitions Championship, the Reno-Tahoe Open, the Waste Management Phoenix Open. These are good, solid, rank-and-file events on the PGA Tour, but winning them over a period of seven years makes for an off-the-shelf career. If the accelerating line is bank balance, the horizontal one is notoriety.

This was Gary Woodland, before he became the winner of the 2019 US Open.

Tall and athletic like Dustin Johnson, focused and powerful like Brooks Koepka, on the one hand it makes sense that Woodland leaves Pebble Beach a major champion. On the other, if the first decade of his professional career told us anything it was that we shouldn't worry too much about reciting these lines from his bio in case he were to do something spectacular.

Yet the most recent year of his career has reminded us to open our minds to the idea that, for all the numbers we can pull up on a screen, they are overlaid with various shades of grey. A player can lose on each of the first seven times they hold a 54-hole lead and win like they know nothing else on the eighth. We know that because that's exactly what Woodland did on Sunday.

In winning, he completed a remarkable transformation, one with echoes of another major winner. Just like the Francesco Molinari, Woodland knew as 30 came and went that to become a member of the elite something had to change. He turned to coaches Phil Kenyon and Pete Cowen and found belief in new techniques on and around the greens, which he showed off for the first three rounds of this tournament before instinct took over.

Faced with the looming shadow of Koepka, who birdied four of the opening five holes on Sunday, Woodland stood firm, never once looking like he'd do what Johnson did here in 2010.

Birdies of his own at the second at the second and third holes gave him a cushion and while bogeys at holes nine and 12 reduced his lead to just one, then came an opportunity to flex his muscles at the par-five 14th, where up ahead Koepka had not taken his opportunity.

Here, Woodland came of age. It's true that the difference between the player then and now is that far more reliable short-game, but on one of the world's most fearsome par-fives he was back doing what he does best. First came a power fade off the tee, then came a bullet approach, and two simple shots later he'd moved two clear once more.

As Koepka ran out of time and Justin Rose ran out of gas, Woodland's task was now to guide his ball safely to the clubhouse. He'd survived the storm and was stronger for it, finding the centre of the 15th and 16th greens before scrambling par at the 17th to demand that his pursuer do or die at the par-five 18th.

Koepka left everything on the course, as he always does, but this time it was not quite enough. Who knows what a birdie at the last would've done to affect Woodland's final hole but it did not come, and Koepka finished second for the second time this year at a major championship. He won the other one.

Woodland strode down 18 safe in the knowledge that the job was done. It took someone of his almighty strength to stop the Koepka juggernaut, and having done so at a course so iconic as this one makes his success all the sweeter, no doubt.

So too does the fact that this all happened on Father's Day. Woodland and his wife had been expecting twins back in 2017, only to lose one of them tragically. Woodland calls son, Jaxson, born 10 weeks premature, a miracle. Son, like father, will believe in them when one day he watches dad take down the best player in the world, one more huge birdie putt at the famous final hole a fitting end to a dream week.

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