PEBBLE BEACH, CA. (Reuters) - Throughout his career Gary Woodland as been better known for his work with a driver than a putter but that all might change after he rode a red-hot flat stick to the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard on Friday.
Woodland had all facets of his game firing on a cool day on the Monterey peninsula as he carded a six-under 65 to equal the low round for any U.S. Open played at Pebble Beach, a mark set by Tiger Woods in 2000 and matched by Justin Rose on Thursday.
But it was two clutch putts at the end of the day that secured Woodland a two-shot lead over Rose, the first a heart-stopping 15-footer to save par at eighth followed by a monster 50-foot birdie at his last, the ninth.
“That was huge,” said Woodland recalling his putt at the eighth.
“I played beautifully all day. I didn’t want to give a shot back. So that was a nice putt to go in to kind of keep the momentum going.”
And the ninth?
“The one on the last, that was just a bonus,” smiled the 35-year-old American.
One of the PGA Tour’s big hitters, Woodland ranks 11th in driving distance and greens in regulation but his work on the greens has not kept pace and he sits well back at 179th in putts per round.
But Woodland says he has gone to school on his putting and now that he has found his groove, it has given the freedom to work on other things.
“Obviously I rely on my driving,” conceded Woodland. “With the (putting) stroke itself I put a lot of work in with Phil Kenyon.
“We had a long talk the week after the PGA (Championship) about learning how to practice, changing some things with the practice and routine because the stroke itself was really good.
“That gave me a lot of confidence knowing that it was something I could work on, not stroke-wise but learning how to practice, learning how to read greens, making some adjustments in that aspect.”
Without a top 10 finish in his first 27 majors, Woodland finally made a breakthrough at the PGA Championship last year where finished tied for sixth followed by a tie for eighth in the same event this year.
Some of that success can be traced back to improved putting.
“I know we have my stroke where I want it,” said Woodland. “I’m not searching anymore.
“Now it’s more about learning the speed, learning the greens. I’m not focused on my stroke.
“Believing in yourself. Knowing that my stroke is good. I can rely on other things and it’s been working.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney