By Steve Keating
PEBBLE BEACH, CA. (Reuters) – Usually birdies and bogeys are the focal point of any round but for Gary Woodland it was pars that provided the highlights on Saturday, sending him into the final round of the U.S. Open with a one shot lead.
Woodland’s two-under 69 featured three birdies and a lone bogey but with his four shot lead trimmed to two and Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka stalking him, it was par saves at 12 and 14 that were key to his round.
“When I chipped in on 12 and made the long putt on 14 for par, he (Rose) executed putts right after that on top of that,” said Woodland. “He’s been putting well all week.
“I’m just trying to stay within myself. I’m trying to extend the lead. I’m trying to execute everything to the best of my ability, and I’ve done that really well.”
Woodland found himself in real trouble for the first time at the par-three 12th when his tee shot ended up in the tall fescue surrounding the greenside bunker.
With his only option to punch out Woodland watched his ball sail across the green and into the fringe rough where he brought the crowd to its feet chipping in from the fringe for par.
At the par-five 14 Woodland found himself in trouble again but again delivered in the clutch hitting a monster 43-foot putt to save par and keep himself from losing more ground.
“I settled in and then I was back to being myself,” said Woodland. “And that’s what I’ve learned from that situation, I can’t control everybody else.
“I can control my attitude, and I can control my game. And that’s what I’m out here to do.”
Playing in the final pair, controlling his nerves on Sunday could prove more challenging than controlling his irons but a confident Woodland says he is prepared for both.
Despite a lack of results at the majors, going out last will not be a completely unfamiliar experience for Woodland, who held the 36-hole lead at the 2018 PGA Championship and played the weekend with Tiger Woods and two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. He finished in a tie for sixth.
“It’s more of enjoying the moment,” said Woodland, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour. “This is what we play for. This is what I’ve worked so hard for.
“And I think playing with Tiger last year on Sunday, I don’t know if I enjoyed it to start the round, I think I kind of got caught up in it a little bit.
“But I’m getting more and more comfortable from the situation just because I’ve been in the situation.
“Obviously put myself in position in the PGA last year, it’s one of those where the game is becoming more complete, and with that comes a lot of confidence and adds up to playing well.”
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)