The third major of the year — the 2019 U.S. Open — is in the books, with unlikely winner Gary Woodland holding the trophy after an impressive 13-under performance. Woodland held off Brooks Koepka, who came up just short in his bid for three straight U.S. Opens and his second major of the year.
After watching Woodland win his first major, are there more to come? Does coming up short at Pebble Beach set Koepka back at all? And what’s next for Tiger Woods?
Our experts look back on the U.S. Open and into the future, with the year’s final major, The Open, at Royal Portrush (July 18-21).
1. Brooks Koepka came close. What impact will just missing have? A slump? A run of more majors?
Bob Harig: Nobody should worry about Koepka. What an amazing run. And there is no shame in shooting 68 on the final day of the U.S. Open and coming up short. If anything, it shows how impressive it is to win four majors in two years. Sometimes you come up short. Or get beat. Koepka became the first player in U.S. Open history to shoot four rounds in the 60s and not win. And afterward, he saluted Woodland, and seemed perfectly content to move on.
Michael Collins: I didn’t see anything that made me think Brooks was headed for a slump. Dude was 3 shots clear of the guys tied for third. I spoke to him briefly before he left, and he didn’t seem at all shook. That makes me believe even more that more majors are coming his way.
Ian O’Connor: I see no impact on Koepka’s upcoming performances in the majors. Remember, Jack Nicklaus won 18 times but finished second 19 times. You have to keep putting yourself in position to win, and be willing to have your heart broken more often than not, to rack up a bunch of major titles. Brooks’ formula isn’t going to change. Absorb the losses, learn from them and keep putting yourself right back in contention.
Mark Schlabach: I think Brooks is going to be just fine. He faced more pressure than anyone this week, other than maybe Woodland, while trying to become the first person in 114 years to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles. He finished second. Koepka was first in greens in regulation (75 percent) and hit more than 70 percent of the fairways, but he didn’t putt very well on Pebble Beach’s Poa annua greens. If he’d made a few more putts over 72 holes, he would have been raising another trophy.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: This will make him grumpy, for sure. He’ll find a way to use this as fuel. All the great ones do. And clearly, the past two years — and even in defeat this week — he has proved he is one of the great ones. I’m not sure we’ll need to wait until next year for him to win another major. He’s going to be a factor — a significant factor — at Royal Portrush in The Open next month.
2. Will Gary Woodland win another major?
Harig: Many times we’ve wondered if a major victory would lead to more for a player. Look at all the players with just one, including Jason Day, Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson. Woodland’s overall record is short on victories, so perhaps this spurs him to more. But I will guess he won’t win another major.
Collins: Aw, man, we can’t even let this one marinate for a minute? OK, fine. Another battle between Brooks and Gary at the next PGA Championship where this time Gary wins again while Brooks charges at him. FINE (sarcastically) … I guess I’ll take that if you’re gonna force me to. Yes, I think Woodland can win another one, but if he doesn’t, we shouldn’t be shocked because they are hard to win.
O’Connor: Yes. I think now that he has a short game to go with his long game, along with the extreme confidence inspired by winning a U.S. Open, Woodland won’t go down as a one-and-done wonder. I don’t see him as a guy who ends up with four or five majors, not at age 35. But I’ll give him one more.
Schlabach: It took him eight years to win the first one and only recently has he looked comfortable on golf’s biggest stage. Woodland has always been a big hitter, and now he looks like a much more complete player. He can rely on his putting and short game, which he couldn’t do in the past. I don’t think he’s going to go on a run like Koepka, but he’s talented enough and now he has the confidence to start winning more often.
Pietruszkiewicz: Often over the course of the broadcast this week, former tour pros and major champions Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger kept saying Woodland was like Koepka before he became Koepka. Now that seems like a lot, to expect Woodland to reach those heights. But sure, he can win another one or two. So I say yes, he’ll get another.
3. What do you make of Tiger’s week?
Harig: Give Tiger this: Nobody grinds more than him, even at this stage of his career. After starting the final round by bogeying four of his first six holes, he was on his way to a round in the high 70s. It would have been easy to give in: cold weather, sore neck, bothersome back. Yet he came alive and played his last 12 holes in 6 under. It was a remarkable feat, and takes the sting away from a disappointing week. Still, Woods has played just 10 rounds since the Masters and isn’t expected to play any before The Open. Two of them have been in the 60s, both on the last day when he was out of contention. It’s going to take a huge effort to get it done at Royal Portrush.
Collins: We learned what we knew (How NFL coach does that sound?). If the temperature is below 60 degrees, there’s just no way for Tiger’s body to get right and stay right. Expect the same issues when we get to Northern Ireland, where it’s probably going to be even worse weather (sigh). I’m as spoiled as everyone else after the Masters, but being realistic, this is the “new” Tiger we have to accept.
O’Connor: A weird week, for sure, but I like how he finished Sunday. I don’t think he’ll win at Portrush, not without playing between now and The Open. Tiger had such a momentous and magical win at the Masters, I just don’t think he has it in the tank to win another major this year. He admitted Saturday that he’s hurting physically, and emotionally he still appears drained. If you’re looking for his next great shot at No. 16, look at Augusta National next spring.
Schlabach: It was his best finish in the final round of a U.S. Open in 10 years, which helped him salvage a tie for 21st. Otherwise, Tiger looked out of sorts and was never really a factor. I expected more from him at a place where he’s had so much success, and I’m beginning to wonder whether his body will hold up over the long run. He looked stiff, uncomfortable and never seemed to find a rhythm until Sunday.
Pietruszkiewicz: I misread this one. I said he would win this week, and, well, obviously he didn’t. It’s becoming clear that weather is a significant factor; if it’s cold or rainy, with his age and surgery history, it just isn’t easy to get the body moving the way he wants over four consecutive days. So while Pebble Beach is a good fit for him, the conditions were not. Could be the same thing at Royal Portrush. Does this mean the Masters was a one-off, that he won’t win another major? Absolutely not.
4. There were a lot of birdies at the U.S. Open this year. The pain and suffering and player complaints were absent. Did you miss it?
Harig: We all knew the USGA was going to be extremely careful with the course after what has happened over the past few years. Another controversy was to be avoided at all costs. So when the weather was warm and sunny on the weekend before the tournament, officials made sure to put water on the course, not wanting any part of it getting away from them. Then when cooler temperatures without much wind prevailed during the tournament, Mother Nature took care of any issues. In retrospect, had the USGA left the course alone earlier in the week, playing conditions might have been firmer; but that risked crossing the line. It was a wise move. Sure, too many birdies. So what? It was still an excellent tournament.
Collins: I am so sick and tired of people wanting to see bad golf just because it’s the U.S. Open. I wish those people who complain about it being too easy would take a long walk off a short pier. Not one player complained about the setup. Ya know why? Because it was fair. Mother Nature dictated the scores, so if you have a problem with the scoring, complain to her. I am fearful of what the USGA might do next year at Winged Foot, though.
O’Connor: I thought it played out perfectly. Who really needed another U.S. Open rock fight on such a majestic course? And what’s wrong with the world’s best players having an opportunity to light up the scoreboard once in a while in what’s advertised as the game’s toughest major? The USGA swore it had listened to player and media criticism, and smartly got out of the way. It was a great tournament in a great ballpark.
Schlabach: It was a nice change of pace, after so much bellyaching in the recent past. The U.S. Open and Pebble Beach purists will be upset about so many low scores, but this week was about the players — and not the USGA — for a change. Players raved about the setup, even Phil Mickelson, and many of them said it’s the best they’ve ever seen at Pebble Beach.
Pietruszkiewicz: To quote “Gladiator” — “Are you not entertained?” There was nothing wrong with having a U.S. Open in which the best players in the world decided the championship, on one of the world’s best golf courses, based on talent, shot-making and nerves. That’s what happened here. No tricks. No manipulating the golf course. Just a perfect setup. So why can’t this be a regular occurrence?
5. Given the low scores this year, what will the winning score be at next year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot?
Harig: It will be much closer to par. When Geoff Ogilvy won there in 2006, the winning total was 285, 5 over par. The place can be a beast, and the USGA doesn’t have to do much to make it difficult. Look for a couple of strokes under par to win in 2020.
Collins: What was the name of that movie? “There Will Be Blood.” Just kidding. I think the USGA might have learned a great lesson this week. One that the R&A has known for a long time: Sometimes the best players in the world show why they’re the best in the world, and that’s OK. There will be years when 1 under or 1 over is the winning score without having to trick up a course or let it get out of control. It’s always better to err on the side of caution. That way players won’t whisper about boycotting your event.
O’Connor: There will be a market correction next year, but I don’t think it will be another Winged Foot Massacre. The USGA has learned its lesson. We won’t see Pebble scores, that’s for sure, in part because Winged Foot is an angry arena. But I don’t see a crazy score north of par winning next year. I’ll say 1 under wins. Something for Mickelson to shoot for as he returns to the scene of his most haunting loss — a redemptive victory as a present to himself for his 50th birthday.
Schlabach: Winged Foot has hosted the U.S. Open five times since 1929, and only once has a winner finished under par — Fuzzy Zoeller (4 under) in 1984. I don’t think the setup will resemble “The Massacre” in 1974, but it’s going to be a lot more difficult than what we saw at Pebble Beach this past week. USGA officials will come up with something a little more challenging, and you never know how the weather will impact conditions.
Pietruszkiewicz: Is 20 over too much? Honestly, it’s going to be over par. What happened at Pebble Beach — when two players finished double digits under par and 31 players overall ended four days in red numbers, won’t be permitted two years in a row. In 2017, Koepka won at Erin Hills by posting 17 under. In response, he won with 1 over at Shinnecock Hills in 2018. When Rory McIlroy torched soggy Congressional in 2011, the winning the score the next year at Olympic Club was 1 over.