Who really has a shot (and who doesn’t) to win this U.S. Open


PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Gary Woodland made pars from all over the Monterey Peninsula on Saturday afternoon, dodging one miscue after another to remain atop the leaderboard at the U.S. Open through 54 holes.

Was that a sign of good karma or potential deal-with-the-devil folly? Woodland shot 69 with just a single bogey at Pebble Beach, and will take a one-shot lead over Justin Rose into the final round.

The good news for Woodland is that he has been getting better in majors, and learned some valuable lessons playing with Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship last year at Bellerive in St. Louis. In that one, Woodland posted his first top-10 in one of the four biggest tournaments. He added another last month at Bethpage Black.

This is new territory for Woodland, 35, at the U.S. Open — he has never finished in the top 20 in eight previous appearances — but his game has been solid over the past year as he has improved his putting and risen to No. 25 in the world. Twice he was a hard-luck runner-up this season, shooting a final-round 63 in South Korea to finish second to Brooks Koepka at the CJ Cup, and then getting passed by Xander Schauffele despite a final-round 68, at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Does he have what it takes to win a major and a fourth PGA Tour title?

A few of these players could have a say in the outcome.

Where he stands: One shot back

The Englishman who won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion certainly has the game, experience and resume to be a Sunday factor. He has spent the better part of the past year either ranked No. 1 in the world or close to it. And he has had a staggering 26 top-10s over the past two years, with six worldwide wins, including earlier this year at the Farmers Insurance Open. Closing the deal in majors has been more problematic, but Rose, 38, is right there again with a chance. When he won at Merion six years ago, he trailed by two shots entering the final round. His final-hole birdie on Saturday put that much more heat on Woodland.

“It comes down to putting yourself in position on Sunday,” Rose said. “And if you have a lead on Sunday, there’s so much that can happen at the U.S. Open. But if you are going to win, you need to step up and hit a great shot. When that moment happens there might be a situation to commit — you’ve got to do something to win a golf tournament at the end of the day. That’s what I took from Merion. I was in the middle of the fairway on 18 and I had to hit a golf shot. Fortunately it came off. Until that point you can’t really get to that point. What’s going to get you there is the shot for sure, the boring stuff.’

Where he stands: Four shots back

He has trailed after 54 holes only once in his four major wins, that coming two years ago at Erin Hills where he was a shot back going into the final round. But that is a hardly a negative as he goes for a third straight U.S. Open title. Saturday’s bogey-free 68 kept him in contention. He’s poised to take the trophy again, especially if Woodland wobbles. Koepka has now joined a small group of players who have shot four consecutive rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open.

“Just keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “Obviously whatever I’m doing is working. Trying to be 3 back going into the back nine, you never know from there, see what happens. Make a couple of birdies, put some pressure on guys.”

Where he stands: Four shots back

This would go down as one of golf’s great upsets, especially given his limited experience in majors. Reavie is playing in just his 18th major — and has missed eight cuts. But the one-time PGA Tour winner — he claimed 2008 at the Canadian Open — has put himself in position. Stranger things have happened, but this would be up there.

Where he stands: Four shots back

The South African who won the 2010 Open and lost in a playoff at St. Andrews in 2015 has had his share of close calls. He has finished runner-up in all four majors, and did well to give himself a chance here with a late birdie flurry on Saturday to rally for a score of 70. Like the others who are four shots back, he’s a strong final round with some help away from winning the U.S. Open.

Where he stands: Five shots back

All four of McIlroy’s major titles came when he was in at least a share of the 54-hole lead. But perhaps given the lack of success in the biggest tournaments of late, this is a good position for him. There’s no reason for McIlroy to play conservative. Maybe he gets on a roll, shoots a low number and steals the trophy for his second U.S. Open win. In the end, he may rue being even-par on the par 5s this week. And that’s with a birdie at the 18th on Saturday.

“You’ve just got to let it happen [on the first seven holes],” McIlroy said. “There’s going to be a few decisions to be made. I would expect the pin to be at the back of the green. Do you have a crack at that? Do you not? I’m still going to have to play the holes pretty much the same.

“But whether you can take that aim and try to get it — it will really just depends. Those first seven holes you can get some momentum going and you can play them in 3- or 4-under, and that’s where the real meat of the golf course starts.

“I’m going to take it as it comes. Yes, I’d love to play those holes in a few under and get myself right in the thick of things, but I can’t put myself under pressure to do that because it’s just — you’ve just got to let it happen.”

Where he stands: Six shots back

It would be quite the story for Kuchar to rally for his first major title at age 40. It would be even bigger given all the controversy he has endured this season amid winning twice, contending often and leading the FedEx Cup. Kuchar has gotten more attention for the caddie payment issue in Mexico and for a rules issue with Sergio Garcia at the WGC-Match Play. But he has remained steady regardless. Kuchar hurt his chances with two late bogeys, and had four overall in a round of 70 that might have left him too far back.

Where he stands: Six shots back

Like Reavie, Hadley has a small sample size of major championship experience. He missed the cut in his only U.S. Open appearance before this one. That was just last year at Shinnecock Hills. In fact, Hadley made just one cut in seven previous major appearances. The one-time PGA Tour winner made it through sectional qualifying to get here, and he’s doing the best with his opportunity, although a birdie at the par-5 18th really hurt.

Where he stands: Seven shots back

The 2010 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach is probably too far behind — as are Danny Willett, Jon Rahm, Henrik Stenson and Matthew Wallace, all at 4 under — but perhaps there is some final-round magic in his game. He eagled the 18th to get this close and would become just the third player — joining Willie Anderson and Jack Nicklaus — to win two U.S. Opens at the same venue. When McDowell won in 2010, he made just a single birdie in the final round to finish at even par.

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