Pebble Beach—Gary Woodland’s whole sporting life has prepared him for Sunday, when he takes a one-shot lead into the final round of the 119th US Open Golf Championship.
The 35-year-old American is hardly a household name, despite three US PGA Tour titles, but he’s confident he can hold his own against the game’s best—including former world number one Justin Rose who will play alongside him in the final group.
“I worked for this my whole life. I’ve trained since I started walking,” Woodland said. “I’ve played sports, I’ve competed. I’ve learned how to win, even if I haven’t done it as much as I’d like.
“I know what it takes to win. And my game is in a great spot.”
Woodland, who abandoned college basketball to pursue golf, has worked hard to polish up a short game long overshadowed by his booming length and worked with British putting coach Phil Kenyon to step it up on the greens.
After failing to produce a top-10 finish in his first 27 majors, he has contended at the last two PGA Championships—where playing alongside Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods gave him valuable lessons in performing on the big stage.
“I know if I play my game and play like the way I’ve been playing, the guys from behind me are going to have to do something really, really special,” he said.
Woodland remained supremely poised Saturday in the face of back-nine adversity. He shanked a shot at the 12th out of tall rough on the lip of a bunker, but chipped in from the fringe to save par.
Two holes later he was in the rough again, and chunked his chip to come up short at the par five, where he was again looking bogey but rolled in a 42-foot putt from off the green for another par.
In between he missed the fairway at 13, but kept his round going with a four-footer to save par.
They were the kind of holes that once might have derailed a round, but his game has matured there, too.
“It took me a lot to learn to control adrenaline,” Woodland said. “Other sports you use adrenaline to your advantage. Out here, when I get a little excited, I need to find a way to calm myself back down.
“I was able to control myself and get back in the moment. I’ve learned to take an extra deep breath and really start controlling everything, and not just the game, controlling the mental side, too.