Gary Woodland delivered a gritty back nine display Saturday, coming up with key par saves in a two-under 69 to stay one stroke in front of Justin Rose heading into the fourth round of the US Open at Pebble Beach.
Woodland, a three-time US PGA Tour winner in search of his first major title, finished 54 holes with on 11-under 202 to stay in front of former US Open champion Rose, who capped his three-under 68 with a birdie at 18 for a 10-under total of 203.
It was another three strokes back to a group headed by two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, who stayed within striking distance of a fifth major title with a 68 for seven-under 206.
Woodland, who stretched his two-shot overnight lead to as many as four on the front nine, led Rose by three after a birdie at 11.
He was facing a dropped shot at 12 after finding the rough on the lip of a bunker, but chipped in to save par, preserving a two-shot lead as Rose drained a nine-foot birdie putt.
After rolling in a four-foot par-saving putt at 13, Woodland produced another unlikely save, draining a 42-foot putt at the par-five 14th — where Rose also birdied.
“I felt really comfortable today, comfortable with my game,” the 35-year-old said. “I’m excited to be where I am right now.”
Woodland’s nine-foot birdie putt burned the edge at 18, where Rose closed the gap with his fifth birdie of the day.
“I’m certainly reading the greens well,” said Rose, whose putting has kept him going all despite a wealth of missed fairways and greens.
GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / Harry How England’s Justin Rose reacts to his shot on the 13th tee during the third round of the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach
Rose and Woodland both set themselves up for the weekend with rounds of 65 — Rose on Thursday and Woodland on Friday — matching the lowest US Open round ever posted at Pebble Beach and first achieved by Tiger Woods in 2000.
On another cool, overcast day Pebble Beach continued to offer birdie chances, but there was plenty of danger lurking among the spectacular ocean views.
“If you don’t drive it good around here or struggle with your iron play, you’re going to struggle,” said former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, who carded a one-under 70 to get to seven-under along with Koepka and Chez Reavie, who signed for a 68.
“It’s so, so tough, the rough,” said Oosthuizen, who thought the US Golf Association found an ideal balance, even if scores were startlingly low for a US Open.
“You still need to hit fairways, still need to hit greens, and it’s nice to see red numbers in a US Open. I think it’s a little bit more exciting.”
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy found the going tough enough.
McIlroy rebounded from a bogey at the par-three 17th with his third birdie of the day at 18 for a one-under 70 that left him alone in sixth on six-under 207.
“I felt for the most part today I did the right things,” McIlroy said.
“And I need to do 18 more holes of that, but just get a little bit more out of the round tomorrow than I did today,” added the four-time major winner who was a stroke in front of Americans Matt Kuchar and Chesson Hadley, who both shot 70.
– Woods stalls –
Tiger Woods, who needed a big move after starting the day nine adrift, finished where he started with a 71 for an even par total of 213.
Woods was going the wrong way early after bogeys at the first and third. His five birdies were more than he made in the first two rounds combined, but were balanced by five bogeys.
GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / Andrew Redington Tiger Woods assesses the situation at the 17th hole during the third round of the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach
“I got off to a crap start,” the 15-time major champion said. “Two-under through three, and those are the easier holes.
“I had to try to fight back and claw out a round today, which I was able to do.”
Five-time major-winner Phil Mickelson, however, saw his hopes of finally completing the career grand slam with a US Open win disappear with his drive at 18 into the Pacific Ocean. He walked off with a triple-bogey eight in a four-over-par 75.
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