16 June 2019: An engaging day’s play at the US Open left Gary Woodland managed just enough to remain ahead of the chasing pack lead by a persistent Justin Rose. With as many as ten golfers dipping under par for three straight rounds, this one hasn’t felt like the quintessential US Open, yet Pebble Beach remains a formidable challenge and Sunday promises to bring us several more thrills and spills before we discover our champion in the 119th edition of the US Open.
Woodland made three birdies in his 69, but his most important strokes came well after those birdies were on his card. The leader found himself perched in an uncomfortable position on the fringe sloping into a bunker on the left of the 12th green. An awkward chip from there travelled across the green and came to rest in the fringe on the other side. Woodland made a sensational chip from there to make an invaluable save for par.
A poor tee shot at the par-5 14th left Woodland managing his ball through the penal rough at Pebble. He reached the green in four, but the flag was a good 40 feet away as he walked in trepidation toward the table. Unfazed, he committed to the line, made the ball curl on a useful break and sank the par-putt to hold his own during a threatening stretch of play. That was enough to pack a confidence-boosting edge going into Sunday at the US Open.
Meanwhile, Rose was doing his utmost to try and catch Woodland. The Englishman posted birdies at 8, 12 & 14 – each a pivotal hole in the context of this intriguing battle for the lead. Woodland made a bogey at 8 and pars as already mentioned at those other two holes. but despite that and a timely gain at the 18th, Rose remained one back, courtesy of a bogey at the 13th which nullified the two-stroke swing he scored at the eighth. Woodland (68-65-69) is at 11-under 202, with Rose (65-70-68) tapping on his heels.
Another remarkable performance on moving day belonged to Louis Oosthuizen (66-70-70). He was two-over standing on the 15th tee, but produced three straight birdies from there to secure a useful 70, his second straight this week. At 7-under 206, he is tied in third with Chez Reavie (68-70-68) and defending champion Brooks Koepka (69-69-68).
Despite the scent of a rare piece of history following every move of his at Pebble Beach, Koepka has been rock steady. Starting the week at T16, he has climbed relentlessly up the order, planting himself just four strokes back on a Sunday that could yet prove to be a titanic duel among some of the most ferociously hungry warriors in golf.
Unfortunately for some fans, that thick group of hunters will not include Tiger Woods. The Masters champion has been riding circles this week, unable to impose himself on this very familiar course. Scores of 70-72-71 have left him even through 54 at T27. Even for a champion of Tiger’s pedigree, an eleven stroke margin is a mile too far.
Rory McIlroy would have wanted to run deeper on Saturday, but try as hard as he might, took home a 70 lying alone in sixth at 6-under 207. The most prolific golfer this season will need an encore of something like his performance at the Canadian Open to try and challenge the men ahead of him.
The ever-present Matt Kuchar was on the first page of the leaderboard, sharing the seventh spot with Chesson Hadley at 5-under. Trailing the duo by one are Matt Wallace, Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm, Graeme McDowell and Danny Willett, who is finally showing signs that he might be ready to return from his long spell of hibernation after an unexpected victory in the 2016 Masters.
Asian hopes are shouldered by Byeong Hun An, Hideki Matsuyama and Haotong Li. Byeong Hun is in T14 at 3-under, riding a 68 in the third round. Hideki posted 70 to go back under par. Haotong battled to a 72, despite suffering three bogeys and a double at the 14th hole to remain even through three rounds.
R1 (2): Nate Lashley (67), Graeme McDowell (69)
R2 (1): Gary Woodland (65)
R3 (2): Byeong Hun An (68), Brooks Koepka (68)
Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
R1: 35.634 36.922 72.556 —
R2: 35.500 37.071 72.571 72.631
R3: 35.595 36.835 72.430 72.588
Toughest hole Easiest hole
R1: Par-4 10th (4.449) Par-5 6th (4.628)
R2: Par-4 9th (4.327) Par-5 6th (4.635)
R3: Par-4 9th (4.468) Par-5 6th (4.519)