GARY WOODLAND threw a spanner into the ‘Major Machine’, as he hung tough at Pebble Beach to deny Brooks Koepka a third successive US Open title.
American Woodland, 35, reached the top of the golfing mountain after overcoming devastating personal tragedy which included the miscarriage of a baby.
Woodland put a glorious seal on his closing 69 by sinking a thirty footer for birdie at the final hole, as he kept the charging Koepka at bay – and finally showed he can close the final after failing to convert any of his previous SEVEN 54 hole leads.
Woodland’s wife is expecting twin girls in August, and the Kansas golfer said earlier in the week that he needed to make as much money as possible to take care of the new arrivals.
So the £1.8million winner’s cheque will come in pretty handy.
At 35, Woodland is a late bloomer. He failed to record a single top ten in his first 27 Majors, but finally moved up a gear with a share of sixth behind Koepka at last year’s USPGA.
He was joint eighth – again, behind you know who – in the same event last month, and puts his improvement down to linking up last year with English coach Pete Cowan, who definitely has the Midas touch in the Majors.
Yorkshire-based Cowan also works with Koepka, and his other “pupils” have included Major winners Hernik Stenson, Darren Clarke and Louis Oosthuizen.
Woodland has always been regarded as one of the longest hitters in the game, but Cowan has added a silky touch around the greens.
That helped Woodland add a silky touch around the greens to his power game – and that finesse was perfectly illustrated as he caressed a scary chip from thirty yards across the green at the par three 17th, and left himself just two feet for par.
With Koepka failing to birdie the par five closing hole up ahead of him, it mean Woodland had a two shot cushion playing the last.
He still have to avoid hitting his tee shot into the Pacific Ocean, which runs menacingly down the entire length of the 18th – something plenty of players have done before him.
But once his tee shot found dry land, he could breathe easily.
And he provided a grandstand finish by holing that monster putt to finish on 13 under par, three clear of Koepka, who has now finished 2nd, 1st, and 2nd in this year’s Majors.
Before that stunning climax, the closing holes had turned into a real war of attrition, in true US Open style, after a virtual birdie fest for the first three and a half rounds.
Woodland began the final round with a one shot lead over playing partner 2013 US Open winner Justin Rose.
But even though he was another three shots back, most people regarded Koepka as the real dangerman, after rattling off four sins in his last eight Majors.
Sure enough, Koepka came out breathing fire, with birdies at four of the first five holes.
But instead of wilting, Woodland responded with two early birdies of his own. And although Koepka twice closed to within one shot of the leader, he never managed to draw level.
Rose could not produce the same fireworks as Koepka and Woodland over the ‘easy’ opening holes – he played the first seven in level par – which denied him a vital cushion for the tougher stretch to come.
His incredible scrambling powers kept him in touch heading into the back nine, as he took his tally of single putts to an astonishing 39 with 65 holes played.
But just when he needed those powers of recovery most, they deserted him.
Rose missed a four footer for par at the short 12th, and also failed to find the target after a shocking mistake at 13. He was in the middle of the fairway and hoiked a simple wedge shot into a no-go bunker.
That left him three shots behind Woodland and two adrift of Koepka – and he was never going to make up that sort of deficit without a ton of help from his rivals.
Another bogey at the 15th completed a disappointing 74, and dropped him into a four way tie for third place on seven under.
Rory McIlroy, who started five shots back, was never a factor after a gut-wrenching double bogey on the second hole.
He hit his drive into the absolute filth down the right side of the hole and when he tried to muscle his ball out he could only gouge it six feet forward into a bunker.
So one more chance to prevent that Major drought stretching into a sixth year – next month’s Open in Portrush, where the pressure on the Northern Irishman will be ramped up like never before.
Another player stuck among the also-rans was Masters champion Tiger Woods, although his closing 69 for a two under par finish flew in the face of everything we had seen at Pebble Beach so far.
He played the first six holes, the ones where you are supposed to make your score, in four OVER par – and the remaining 12 in six UNDER.
Woods commented: “I wish I knew what happened to get it going, because I would have turned it around a little earlier in the tournament.
“Again, I got off to another crappy start and was able to fight it off. I managed to get it to under par for the week, which is normally a good thing in US Opens - but not the way the scoring has been this week.”