Gary Woodland hasn’t exactly been a fixture at major championships but on Friday at Pebble Beach, he turned out to be the best of the best as conditions started getting a little tougher at the 119th U.S. Open.
Woodland put on his best performance ever in a major championship. He strutted around Pebble with a couple of back nine birdies to start his day then he took over on the easier front nine and by day’s end, added four more birdies that added up to a sweet 65 and the 36-hole lead at nine-under par.
Woodland’s record at majors hasn’t been anything to write home about. He’s had one top 25 in eight U.S. Open appearances. He tied for 32nd at The Masters this year but managed to record his second straight top 10 at the PGA last month. The athletic young man known for his distance off the tee, has been searching for a short game and it looked for all intents and purposes on Friday like he has found one.
He talked about it after his bogey-free excursion on day two that got him to nine-under (133) and a two-shot lead over Justin Rose.
“The short game has come around. I’ve always been a pretty good ball-striker, I’ve relied on my ball-striking on my whole career, athletic ability. But the short game and putting has kind of held me back. PGA last year I made a lot of putts, especially early in the week. Obviously it was nice to finish the top-10 and get that monkey off the back. Bethpage was a really good golf course for me, I can hit driver, drove the ball beautifully. Like I said, I didn’t make any putts that week, but the golf course set up so well for me, it’s one I should contend on week in and week out. Short game and putting has been the big deal for me since then.”
Woodland talked about his work with short game guru Pete Cowen.
“I called Pete after Augusta and I’m like — Pete and I started working together in December. I’d only seen him at golf tournaments. And I just called him and said, We need to make some changes, because at golf tournaments we’re not making many changes, it’s all about the golf course. He flew over the week before. The PGA was the first time we spent time together. We spent two days. He said, Here’s the deal. You and Butch (Harmon) have done great work. Your golf swing is great, but you need to learn what you’re doing, you need to understand your golf swing.
“It was almost like going to school. We spent two days, teaching me why I do things, what to do when things get awry. And that’s been a huge confidence boost. I was able to fix some things when I was on the golf course at Bethpage. And it’s continued to get better and better.”
Friday was Woodland at his best but there’s still a long way to go, here’s some of the big-name contenders lined up in back of him at the halfway mark:
Justin Rose (65-70): “I’m happy. I felt like there was an opportunity to go a couple better. I felt like I left two or three out there. I like my position, I like the golf course, I like how I’m trending. I don’t feel like I’m cooking yet.”
Louis Oosthuizen (66-70): The 2010 Open champion hasn’t been in contention in a major for quite some time. It will be interesting to see how he holds up over the weekend.
Rory McIlroy (68-69): Rory’s looking good but the surprising stat so far is that he has played the par fives two-over through 36-holes. He’s obviously played well on the par fours but needs to take care of business on the fives if he wants to make a run to Sunday.
Aaron Wise (66-71): Hanging around Brooks Koepka has paid off for the youngster. He’s a good ball striker but it remains to be seen if he can handle the weekend heat of a major championship.
Brooks Koepka (69-69): Defending champion is lurking five back of the leader. On Thursday his ball-striking was off and his putting kept him under par. On Friday, it was his ball striking that kept him in the game while his putting took the day off. If he can put both together over the weekend — look out.