Gary Woodland knows what his reputation has been in 10 years on the PGA Tour:
He didn’t like it, but it was difficult to dispute some of the facts. They included that the muscular, Topeka, Kan., native didn’t post a top-10 finish in the first 27 major championships he played. That’s quite an indictment on any player’s versatility.
Woodland hopes his more recent results are changing opinions.
The 35-year-old has top-10 finishes in the last two PGA Championships and Friday made possibly his biggest statement in the 119th U.S. Open.
On a tight, shorter Pebble Beach course not meant to favor the biggest hitters — 49-year-old Jim Furyk shot 67 in the second round, after all — Woodland worked his way around the Cliffside course beautifully, going bogey-free in firing a six-under-par 65 that thrust him into sole possession of the lead.
At nine under heading into the weekend, Woodland led by two shots over 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose, who shot 70. The Englishman held the top spot for most of the day until Woodland charged in late, capping his round by draining a lengthy birdie putt at the par-four ninth.
The 65 matched the lowest score recorded at Pebble Beach in a U.S. Open — a number that Rose also notched in his opening round, and Tiger Woods carded in 2000 on the way to a crown.
Three shots back of Woodland was former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (70), while Rory McIlroy (69) and Aaron Wise (70) were four back at five under.
Woods was nowhere near contending, 10 shots behind after a second-round 72.
Woodland had three PGA Tour victories, the last coming in the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open. This season he has two solo seconds, including a runner-up to McIlroy in the winners-only Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Last month he tied for eighth in the PGA Championship that was held at beastly Bethpage Black Course, which is more conducive to the long ball.
But Woodland contends that he is just as suited to a course such as Pebble Beach that rewards strong iron play.
“Obviously, I rely on my driving,” said Woodland, who ranks 11th (309 yards) this season in driving distance. “But I haven’t always been straight with the driver either. I rely on my ball striking more than anything. In my first win in Tampa (in 2011), I didn’t hit hardly any drivers.”
Woodland counted hitting his longest club on seven of 14 holes in the second round, and he’s been extremely effective off the tee. He’s tied for eighth in the field in fairways hit, while being tied for fifth in greens reached in regulation.
Short game is where Woodland said he needed his most improvement, and maintains that he has worked diligently this year to improve that facet. He said his green reading has improved dramatically.
“Learning to hit it where I’m looking — that’s a big deal for me,” he said.
After this opening 65, Rose went out early into the cool, damp morning and got off to a smooth start with two birdies in the first nine holes. With a birdie at 18, he made the turn at eight under for the tournament.
But his second nine would produce challenges, including at the short No. 1 where Rose hit an iron into the right rough, slashed an approach short of the green, chipped on, and then watched his par putt attempt to do a full horseshoe around the cup.
He bounced back with a great birdie at the long par-four second, hitting an iron to 12 feet and making that.
Rose then made his worst swing of the week at the par-four fourth, on which players used everything from long irons to drivers. Rose chose iron, but was unsettled by the other golfers hitting on the nearby 17th tee. He badly pushed his tee ball, and it went over the cliffs to the right.
“It was one of those kind of half-committed situations, just frustrating,” Rose said.
He nearly saved par with a great approach to eight feet, but missed the downhill putt to record a bogey.
There were no more scores other than par the rest of the way, but included were some great saves. Rose got a bad lie in the greenside rough at No. 8, but punched his ball to eight feet and made the par.