By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 17/06/19 4:56am
Gary Woodland was proud of how he performed under pressure as he reflected on the two key shots that paved his way to a memorable victory at the 119th US Open.
Woodland retained his composure throughout a testing final day at Pebble Beach as he held off defending champion Brooks Koepka to claim his maiden major triumph after a two-under 69 gave him a winning score of 13 under par.
The 35-year-old was particularly impressive down the stretch and pulled off two of the best shots of his career – an aggressive three-wood second shot which set up a priceless birdie at the long 14th, and a remarkable chip to salvage a par at the penultimate hole after his tee shot drifted 90 feet to the right of the pin.
“It would have been pretty easy to lay up there at 14,” said Woodland, whose lead was just one shot as he stood over his second to the par-five 14th, where he had 263 yards to the hole. “My caddie gave me more confidence on that shot, so I’ll give him all the credit. He’s the one that told me play aggressive.
“I’ve been telling him all week, I’ve been good, let’s play aggressive lines, the game feels good. I was even thinking about laying it up a little bit, and he said ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s hit three-wood’.
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“It was one of the better swings I made all week. Him telling me to do that gave me confidence, and it ended up in a perfect spot. That birdie there kind of separated me a little bit from Brooks and gave me a little cushion.”
But his blocked tee shot to the 17th settled in the right fringe and left him with no option but to play a tough pitch as the contours of the green meant he would have been unlikely to get close to the hole with a putt.
“There were not too many options,” he added. “If I putted it, I don’t think I could have got within 20 feet. Fortunately I did have that shot earlier in the week. And I was just trying to get it down there, trying to get it past the hole so I could be putting back uphill, and it came off perfectly.
“I clipped it nicely. (Coach) Pete Cowen and I were working on trying to hit spinners off that early this week. That’s what I was thinking about when I was standing over it. And it came out perfectly.”
Woodland closed out his win with a 30-foot putt for birdie on the final green, and he insisted afterwards that the victory was made even sweeter by how he held off a charging Koepka and denied the defending champion a third successive victory.
“It was nice,” he said. “Obviously Brooks got off to a great start, and you knew he was going to come out. The conditions, the wind was down a little bit early in the round so you could play more aggressive. The first couple of holes he could attack, and he did that.
“It was nice for me to make that birdie on two to give myself confidence to kind of slow down everything. And obviously executing the birdie on three, as well. But Brooks, he’s unbelievable. He lives for this moment. And obviously what he’s done the last couple of years is phenomenal.
“So it was nice. I told him when I got done he needs to slow down a little bit. All day he was knocking on the door, so I was proud of myself to stay in my moment and control myself and not get too worried about what he was doing.
“I think from a mental standpoint I was as good as I’ve ever been. I never let myself get ahead of myself. I never thought about what would happen if I won, what comes with it. I wanted to execute every shot. I wanted to stay in the moment. I wanted to stay within myself.
“I knew I was playing good going in, but I’ve been playing good going into a lot of tournaments before and haven’t had the results I’d like. I was proud of myself to stay in it, to slow down a little bit, to slow my thinking down and really focus on what I was doing and not let my mind wander at all.”