Gary Woodland harnesses Brooks Koepka comparisons to claim maiden Major title

MATT MAJENDIE
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Gary Woodland harnesses Brooks Koepka comparisons to claim maiden Major title

Gary Woodland has grown accustomed to being mistaken for Brooks Koepka by autograph-seeking fans. Aptly, the manner in which he won the US Open in the early hours of this morning was Koepka-esque.

The world No1 was bidding for his own piece of history at Pebble Beach in emulating Scottish immigrant Willie Anderson by sealing a hat-trick of US Open titles and, when he picked up four shots in his opening five holes, the achievement looked on the cards.

In addition, Woodland has had a habit of crumbling in the final rounds of Majors, accumulatively 14-over par for his final rounds since 2017.

But while Koepka’s own charge wilted — he ended up one-under for the remaining 13 holes — Woodland not only held his own but pulled further away with the final stroke of the championship, securing the Hollywood finish with a 30ft birdie for a round of 69.

It also extended Koepka’s remarkable run of finishing in the top two of the most recent Majors to four, and he suffered the inglorious record of being the only man in history to card four rounds in the 60s at the US Open and not take home the trophy.

(Getty Images)

Victory proved emotional for Woodland on Father’s Day. He took time away from the tour two years ago when one of the twins his wife, Gabby, was carrying died, while the couple’s other child, son Jaxson, was born 10 weeks prematurely and spent the next month and a half in hospital.

Following a victory which Woodland made look easy, despite the Koepka charge, the new world No12 said: “It’s special. My dad’s here, which is awesome. Unfortunately, my son is at home. He turns two next week, which is amazing. Being a father is as good as it gets.”

He admitted winning a first Major and with it a cheque for £1.8million also ranked highly. A three-times PGA Tour winner, he had never threatened at a Major until his sixth place at last year’s PGA Championship. He was eighth at the same event this year, but still would have been few people’s pick to deny Koepka.

Woodland got off to an ideal start with two birdies in his opening three holes before closing out the front nine with a bogey blip. A further bogey on 12 left him even for the round, but an aggressive three-wood approach on the 14th led to a birdie and, when he evaded the hazards of the 17th — thanks to a fine approach him that took him to within two feet and sealed a par — it took the pressure off going to the final tee.

For British coach Pete Cowen, it was effectively a win-win situation: the man who has fine-tuned the swings of both Koepka and Woodland.

“I never thought the tournament was over, so the emotion all came out when that final putt went in,” added Woodland. “It’s so special to do it here at Pebble Beach. I played to win.”

There is a certain irony that Woodland finds himself as a first-time Major winner. On a basketball scholarship originally at college, he was a shooter with aspirations of reaching the NBA before he swung his sporting attention towards golf. In sealing victory, he became the eighth first-time Major winner at the US Open in its last 11 editions.

Two others on that list, Koepka and Justin Rose, did not quite have enough. While Koepka went on a charge, Rose’s stunning wedge game and putting of the previous three days deserted him and a three-over-par 74 dropped him to a share of third place.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods had been among the pre-tournament favourites, but final rounds of 72 and 69 left them in ninth and 21st places respectively as next month’s Open at Portrush looms into view.