Pebble Beach, CA. The 119th US Open coincided with the 100th anniversary of the founding of Pebble Beach and the grand 18-hole course along the Pacific provided an array of moments that clearly stood apart and worthy of special attention.
*USGA gets it right*
After a number of outright fumbles over the last few years it was an absolute necessity for the USGA to demonstrate the wherewithal to stage an event without so much of a hiccup. That clearly happened this year at Pebble Beach. Nary a player bemoaned the set-up. The story line properly focused on the players and how they performed under the most intense of pressure. The real test will come next year at Winged Foot. The USGA will need to take the momentum from Pebble and show how the success of one event can be carried over in the years to come. Pebble Beach clearly showed its worth and the USGA finally got the formula right given the conditions faced. Kudos are certainly merited.
*Woodland’s 3-metal at the 14th*
Many have weighed in that the shot Gary Woodland performed at the 17th hole during the final round was the determining factor in his ultimate triumph. No doubt it was impressive but the critical shot came at the 14th. Woodland could have opted to lay-up but instead showed real moxie with a bold 3-metal that barely carried the frontal bunker and left him with a simple pitch from just off the green. A meaningful birdie followed providing the clear pathway to his first major.
*Golf’s 800-pound gorilla*
Reputations are cemented in major championship play. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko of Wall Street movie fame — “it’s all about majors — the rest is just conversation.” Brooks Koepka is now the biggest of players on the highest of stages.
Credit Gary Woodland for his win but Koepka received an unkind outcome when his 2nd shot at the par-5 18th skipped off the green and he failed to negotiate the situation into a closing birdie. That failure provided Woodland with enough breathing room to capture the US Open title. What many need to recognize is that Koepka could have won all three majors this year and if that had happened would be heading to The Open for a calendar year Grand Slam. One thing is truly certain – Brooks Koepka does not fear any golfer or situation. Think about that. That’s scary.
*Justin Rose’s final round meltdown*
There is no doubt Justin Rose is among the finest players in golf. But, in entering the final round just one stroke behind eventual winner Gary Woodland it was thought by many the Englishman would pull things together and earn his 2nd US Open title. That didn’t happen. Rose was balancing himself on the slimmest of tight ropes with a tee-to-green game that had deeper holes than the Titanic. Time after time his putting prowess saved him. In the final round the bloom came off for Rose. Securing a second major is a key element for Rose’s overall standing in the game. His overall skills are certainly present but Rose needs a breakout win to separate himself and quiet the talk that he comes up short in big spots.
After a complete meltdown in missing the cut at the PGA Championship at Bethpage, the belief was that Woods would find a return to Pebble Beach more to his liking given past successes there. The answer was a mixed bag. Woods was never really in the hunt and his putter simply could not hole enough key putts to get some needed momentum going early on. The cooler temperatures and persistent marine layer was not exactly helpful to Tiger as well. Woods did finish off his final round in grand fashion with a bevy of birdies but with The Open coming at Portrush one can only wonder if Woods will be able to handle the vastly unpredictable weather fluctuations he is sure to find in Northern Ireland.
*Phil’s US Open dream is over*
Every media person was harping on just how grand it would be for Phil Mickelson to finally win the US Open on Father’s Day which also happened to be his birthday. Then reality happened. Mickelson made the cut with just enough room to spare but his 147 total over the final 36 holes was simply lackluster. Phil has spent a big part of his time explaining how his clubhead speed has not fallen off but golf is much more than machismo and testosterone in launching tee shots. The six-time US Open runner-up had a big time opportunity at Pebble and squandered it. It’s likely the newly minted 50-year-old’s US Open dream will remain more fantasy than reality.
After getting off to a fine start with an opening round 66 it appeared Rickie Fowler would press ahead and be a big time part of this year’s US Open. Then came the 2nd round and a horrific 77 and just that quickly Fowler fizzled. Rickie showed in 2014 he could be in the mix in the majors — with top-five finishes in all of the events. A close call came at the 2018 Masters coming up one stroke shy of winner Patrick Reed but that is more the exception than the rule. Rickie gets plenty of TV time via the commercial he’s doing — but he needs more TV time by being in contention in golf’s biggest events.
*DJ’s allowing time to slide away*
Going into Pebble Beach as one of the favorites it was thought DJ would be a prime contender. Unfortunately, DJ was nowhere in the mix because the issue was a very cold putter.
There’s little question about Dustin’s overall talent. The more meaningful question is how doers someone who’s won 20 times on the PGA Tour only have one major thus far? DJ is moving closer and closer to the likes of Greg Norman, Davis Love III and Fred Couples. Want to know the common denominator? The greatest modern day underachievers in golf. There’s still time but DJ needs to step it up at the biggest of moments.
*Viktor Hovland’s emergence*
After winning the US Amateur last year at Pebble Beach one would have to think how an amateur of Viktor Hovland’s ability could go beyond that. Simple. Claiming low amateur honors at a major championship again this year — the first coming in April at Augusta — Howland displayed plenty of poise and solid golf shots for much of the event at Pebble Beach. He’s playing his first event as a professional at The Traveler’s this week and it’s hard to imagine him not being in the mix in future big time events.
*How soon can Xander Schauffele break through in a major*
Lost in the commotion of the main final round storyline of Woodland, Koepka and Rose was another quality finish by Xander Schauffele. His tie for 3rd shows his consummate skills and that the 25-year-old is clearly able to produce in critical situation. Possesses a solid all around game and those who underestimate do so at great peril.
*Rory’s flat final round — but Portrush is up next
BMW PGA Championship R4
Coming off an impressive victory at the RBC Canadian Open, many believed Rory would continue his fine play at Pebble Beach. At times throughout the event, McIlroy displayed vintage shots. But, on other hand, were a series of self-inflicted blunders. Hard to believe, but making to the weekend rounds at Pebble Beach was something he failed to do in the prior three US Opens.
His final round pursuit was derailed when he promptly double-bogied the 2nd hole in the final round and from that point onward was simply unable to get anything positive going in a sustained manner.
If Rory is not successful at Royal Portrush — his home course when growing up — it will mark five years since his last major. A win at The Open clearly changes the narrative but consistency in the majors recently has been his bugaboo.
*Jordan’s comeback journey still premature*
There’s been plenty of talk about how Jordan Spieth is back on his game. While there have been glimpses of his play clearly improving his overall standing is still a big time work in progress. Jordan was paired with Tiger and Rose for the first two rounds and his play, while not overly good, still had him in 141 and near enough to make a move into contention.
The weekend was nothing short of a debacle for Spieth. His two round total on the weekend was a horrific 149 total. Spieth’s last victory came at The Open Championship – in 2017. That’s nearly two years ago. Spieth has three majors to his name but his play is far, far away from those indelible moments. Going to Portrush will say plenty on how the balance of the year plays out for him.