Pebble Beach, Calif. — The crowd was roaring, the birdies were dropping and Tiger Woods looked like his vintage self for the final 12 holes of the U.S. Open.
The problem for Woods was what happened on the first 60 holes.
Woods salvaged an otherwise disappointing weekend at Pebble Beach by birdieing six of his final 12 holes Sunday to finish the tournament at 2-under par, far behind the top contenders on a weekend made for low scores.
Woods finally got in on the action after bogeys on four of the first six holes with an impressive turnaround that even he couldn’t explain.
“I wish I would have known because I would have turned it around a little earlier than that, he said. “Again, got off to another crappy start and was able to fight it off. Turned back around and got it to under par for the week which is — normally it’s a good thing, but this week the guys are definitely taking to it.”
The problem for Woods all weekend was his inability to take advantage of the scoring opportunities on the first seven holes at Pebble Beach. He played that stretch at 2-over par for the tournament and 4 over in the final two rounds.
Woods left his approach shots short on three of the early bogeys on Sunday and hit a tee shot into the rough at the par-3 fifth hole on the other. As he walked off the sixth green after his fourth bogey, Woods trudged toward the seventh tee, head down, seemingly defeated.
But then he made a 15-footer for birdie at 7, hit an approach to 5 feet on 8 for another birdie and drained a 40-foot putt on 13, prompting a fan to yell, “The comeback has started!”
While that might have been a bit of hyperbole, Woods hit another great approach shot on 16 to get back under par for the tournament and closed it out with another on 18 to the delight of the fans.
“Just because I got off to a bad start doesn’t mean it’s over,” he said. “Keep grinding, keep playing. And I was able to turn my round around today as well as yesterday. So rounds that could have easily slipped away and kind of gone the other way pretty easily I was able it to turnaround.”
The final round of 69 tied for Woods’ second-best closing round ever at a U.S. Open, behind only the 67 at Pebble Beach in 2000 when he had a record-setting 15-stroke win.
Now after starting the year by winning his first major since 2008 at the Masters, Woods has missed the cut at the PGA Championship last month and finished far out of the lead at the U.S. Open.
He plans to take a few weeks off from competition before gearing up for a run at his 16th career major next month at the British Open, played on an unfamiliar course to him at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
“I’m looking forward to getting up there and taking a look at the golf course and trying to figure out,” Woods said. “I hope that my practice rounds are such that we get different winds, especially on a golf course that I’ve never played, and to get a different feel how it could play for the week. And definitely have to do my homework once I get there.”
Viktor Hovland ended his amateur career in style.
Hovland shot a 4-under 67 in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach to finish the weekend at 4-under 280, breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record by two strokes for the lowest score ever for an amateur at the U.S. Open. Nicklaus set the mark in 1960 at Cherry Hills.
“It’s obviously cool to perform such a thing,” Hovland said. “And I hope that this will feed or I can feed off of this going into my professional career and do more things like this and be in contention of winning tournaments.”
The next time Hovland plays it will be for money next week at the Travelers Championship. He accomplished plenty as an amateur. He won the U.S. Amateur here at Pebble Beach last year, won a team collegiate title at Oklahoma State in 2018 and was the low amateur at the Masters in April with a score of 3 under.
Hovland became the first player to be the low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year since Matt Kuchar did it in 1998.
The only thing that didn’t go Hovland’s way was the fact he finished in a tie for 12th place, one shot out of the top 10 and an automatic berth in next year’s U.S. Open.
Of course, losing hurts, but Phil Mickelson isn’t giving up.
He turned 49 on Sunday, and what a day it would’ve been if those serenades of “Happy Birthday” had come later in the afternoon and involved him hitting shots with a U.S. Open title on the line.
Not even close. Mickelson was an afterthought on this day. He teed off at 9:33 a.m. and shot 1-over 72 to tie for 52nd.
“I don’t know what else to say,” he said. “It’s not like I’m going to stop trying.”
Because he has won at Pebble Beach five times on the PGA Tour, and because he’s not getting any younger, many viewed this as his best chance to finally capture the lone major that has eluded him.
Long one of the most-vocal critics of the USGA, Mickelson had nothing but positives to say about this week’s course setup.
“A perfect, hard test,” he called it.
He just didn’t pass it.
And so, he’ll start focusing on Winged Foot –the site of his 2006 U.S. Open collapse– for next year, and Torrey Pines –another course where he’s had success– in 2021.
As for Pebble, well, he’ll always have good memories.
“Even though I didn’t play my best this week, it is a special place, and so fun to be a part of it,” Mickelson said.
Cap and gown
Brandon Wu ended up playing in the final round of the U.S. Open and getting his college degree on the same day.
Wu missed the graduation ceremony at Stanford on Sunday after making the cut at the U.S. Open but was presented with his cap and diploma after finishing up on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.
“There was obviously a little bit of talk about it happening, but honestly I wasn’t expecting it,” Wu said. “I wasn’t thinking about it. The crowds was yelling at me all day about graduation, so it was pretty cool to get this kind of ceremony at the end here.”
Wu finished with a 3-over 74 on Sunday and ended the tournament with a score of 1 over.
Fox posted the largest television audience for the third day of the U.S. Open in six years.
Fox said it averaged 4,243,000 viewers for the 10 hours of coverage on Fox. That was an increase of 12 percent over last year when the tournament was played at Shinnecock Hills on the East Coast and the biggest audience since 2013 at Merion.
Fox said the audience peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. EDT with an audience of 5,569,000 viewers, near the end of Tiger Woods’ round. The leaders didn’t finish for another four hours.