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Gary Woodland wins U.S. Open, holds off Brooks Koepka’s bid for three-peat

The Kansas native captures his first major, beats the two-time defending champ and former FSU standout by three strokes at Pebble Beach.
Gary Woodland celebrates after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday, June 16, 2019, in Pebble Beach, Calif. [MATT YORK | Associated Press]
Published Jun. 17
Updated Jun. 17

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Brooks Koepka brought his ‘A’ game to Pebble Beach on Sunday, hoping it would be good enough to make history.

It was in a way.

Just not good enough to slow down the magic show Gary Woodland was putting on behind him.

Koepka’s round of 3-under 68 left him three strokes short of Woodland, who stopped Koepka’s quest to become the first player since 1905 to win three straight U.S. Opens.

Koepka, a former star at Florida State, did make history by becoming only the fourth player to break 70 in all four rounds of the U.S. Open, but even that didn’t turn out so great. Ten minutes later, Woodland became the fifth, thanks to a par save courtesy of a chip off the 17th green that nearly went in, then a 30-foot birdie on 18 for the final dagger.

And so, Koepka’s special place in history after this week at Pebble Beach is that he’s the only man to break 70 all four rounds and not walk away with the title. He finished 10-under par 274.

“I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. And sometimes, no matter how good your ‘good’ is, it isn’t there,” Koepka said.

Koepka came into the day trailing by three but made an all-world par save — first from the gallery, then from the thick grass in a barranca fronting the second green — and followed that with three straight birdies that pushed him to 11 under, only one shot behind Woodland.

“I thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a ballgame now,’” Koepka said.

It was quite a ballgame, but it didn’t go back and forth.

Even after a front side of 3-under 32, and even after stuffing a wedge on No. 11 to 10 feet for a birdie to get to 11 under, Koepka could not grab the lead — not even for a minute.

He missed the fairway on 13, 14 and 15 and saved par each time, but there was no piercing-perfect gap wedge, a la the 10th hole at the PGA at Bethpage two months ago, and there were no holding off Tiger Woods and all those cheers, a la the PGA at Bellerive last year.

“You knew he was going to come out those first couple holes, you can attack, and he did that,” Woodland said. “All day he was knocking on the door. I was proud to stay in my moment and control myself.”

Woodland’s 3-wood from 263 yards on the par-5 14th set him up for a birdie that gave him a two-shot cushion. It would’ve been the shot of the tournament had it not been for the shots he made from the greens — one with wedge, the other with putter — on 17 and 18.

It put Koepka in a must-make situation at the end.

He was 227 yards from the pin on the par-5 18th and needed eagle to have any chance.

His 3-iron flew past the hole and landed over the green in a tricky lie near the back. He stubbed the chip, then barely missed the 9-foot birdie putt that would’ve put him at 11 under. Koepka doubled over when the ball trickled away, knowing his small chance at a late miraculous turnaround was gone.

“At the time, it felt significant,” Koepka said.

In the end, it might not have mattered.

And though Koepka will have to wait another month before going for major No. 5, at the British Open at Royal Portrush, his resume didn’t take too bad a hit.

His line in the majors this year: One win, two second-place finishes.

It remains one of the most dominating stretches of golf in a while.

When this close call was over, Koepka finally took some time to reflect on the history he almost made.

“I didn’t really think about it until I was done on 18 and realized how close I actually was to kind of, I guess, not making history, but kind of tying it,” he said. “It’s a cool feeling to know. Just wasn’t meant to be this week."

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