Golf Australia

Rounded Woodland comfy on top

Gary Woodland USGA
(Photo courtesy USGA/JD Cuban)

Gary Woodland leads the US Open with a round to play – and he’s calling on his basketball background for help to find his first major championship.

Woodland, 35, carded his third consecutive sub-70 round at Pebble Beach today, enough to ensure a one-stroke lead over good mate Justin Rose who’s at 10 under.

There are another three strokes back to dual defending champion Brooks Koepka who is alongside Chez Reavie and Louis Oosthuizen at seven under, while Rory McIlroy still lurks at six under.

Of the Aussies, Adam Scott is the lone remaining contender, but while he hasn’t given up hope, at three under he will need myriad miracles tomorrow to win his second major. Jason Day and Marc Leishman are even par, while Cam Smith slipped to seven over today.

But all eyes, for the second day in succession, will fall on Woodland who originally went to college as a budding hoopster, averaging six points a game in his role as back-up guard in his one and only year at Washburn University.

The next year he transferred to Kansas University on a golf scholarship and, he hopes, that story will have its primary chapter inked tomorrow night.

But it’s a basketball lesson he partly credits with giving him the wherewithal to deal with the challenges of major championship golf.

Asked after his third-round 69 whether he could recall taking a charge that put him in hospital, Woodland’s resolve shone straight through.

“Yeah, I remember that one. I took a knee, (it) collapsed my trachea (and I) left on a stretcher,” he said.

“That was on a Tuesday and I scored 20-some points on Friday, was player of the week. So I remember that. That guy was trying to dunk on me.

“But it taught me a lot. Basketball, you're not always going to have your best, but you find ways – if I'm not shooting well, I can pass, I can play defence. There's other things I can do.

“I take that to golf. If I'm not driving the golf ball, now I can rely on something else to really get me through. It took me a while to get my game to that position, but I feel like I'm comfortable doing that now.”

Woodland has long been regarded as a great long-ball striker, but his game has rounded nicely into the big time at Pebble Beach.

He has made just two bogeys all week on the coastal classic – remarkably none on the brutal back nine.

Asked if he could have imagined that before the tournament, his answer was again very revealing.

“I would have liked to not have the other two bogeys on the front I guess is how I'd respond,” Woodland said with a grin.

“I feel very comfortable on this golf course. I've played well on Pebble during the AT&T the last couple of times I've been here.

“And I (now) have a lot more shots. I've been a cutter of the golf ball a long time. (Coach) Pete Cowen has got me comfortable working the ball both ways if I need to … and that just frees me up a little bit.

“I have a short game now that I can rely on. I don't have to focus on the ball-striking. This is a golf course I don't have to pound a lot of drivers, I can play a little more conservatively, stick to my game plan.

“And like I said, it's nice to be where I'm at right now.

“But I’m looking forward to going out and doing it one more day.”

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