Golf

Gary Woodland leads U.S. Open after setting 36-hole Pebble Beach record

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USATSI

Gary Woodland leads U.S. Open after setting 36-hole Pebble Beach record

PEBBLE BEACH, CA. -- Ten months ago, Gary Woodland set the 36-hole scoring record at the PGA Championship when he posted a 10-under-par-130 to take the lead into the weekend at Bellerive Country Club. 

Friday at Pebble Beach, Woodland set another 36-hole record. 

The 35-year-old began the day at 3-under-par, but he quickly got off to a quick start on Pebble Beach's back nine. After a key par save to open his round on No. 10, Woodland got to red figures at the Par-3 12th by lacing a 6-iron to six feet to set up his first birdie of the day. Woodland made another birdie at No. 16 to make the turn at 2-under for the day. 

Then, he turned it on. 

After drilling a seven-foot putt for birdie at No. 1, Woodland carded three pars before sending an 8 iron to 15 feet on the Par-3 fifth, He poured in the putt to move to 4-under on the day and tie Justin Rose for the lead at 7-under. He birdied his very next hole to take the outright lead. Then, after draining another 15-foot putt to save par on No. 8, Woodland rode in a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to close his round with a bang. 

He finished the day at 6-under-par, 9-under for the championship, which is the lowest U.S. Open 36-hole score at Pebble Beach. One better than Tiger Woods' mark of 8-under set during his iconic 2000 U.S. Open win. 

Prior to the 2018 PGA Championship, Woodland had never carded a top 10 in a major championship. He finished sixth at Bellerive and followed that up with an eighth-place finish at this year's PGA Championship. 

As Woodland prepares to sleep on the 36-hole lead, he can look back on his experience at Bellerive, where he shot a third-round 71 to fall out of the lead, to know how to handle the magnitude of the stage. 

"I mean playing in that big of a position you learn you have to stay within yourself," Woodland said about heading into the weekend with the lead. "You know, you can't get caught up in what's going on around you. Obviously, there's a lot more noise going on. Obviously, playing with Tiger on Sunday (at the 2018 PGA) I'd never seen anything like that atmosphere. I've played in a basketball arena with 16,000 people right on top of you when I played against KU. It was nothing like that.  

"But you get used to it. You stay within yourself. You slow down. You know, playing with Tiger, it's not the people outside it's the people inside the ropes. There's so much moving and excitement. You learn to slow your breathing, I mean adrenaline is a huge deal. You know, all of a sudden you start hitting the golf ball a little bit farther. You learn to stay within yourself and what you have to do to calm yourself down. And stick to your game plan."

[RELATED: History says one of these 10 golfers will win U.S. Open

Woodland will have to withstand a charge from a star-studded leaderboard if he plans to come home with his first major title. 

Rose sits two shots back, while major winners Louis Oosthuizen, Rory Mcilroy and Brooks Kopeka all are within five shots. Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Jon Rahm headline a group of players six shots back at 3-under-par. 

The USGA no doubt will try to toughen Pebble overnight, so Woodland should face a course with a lot more teeth Saturday and a leaderboard of major champions set on tracking him down. Best of luck, Gary.

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

On Monday, we detailed three minor league pitchers who could help solidify the A's starting rotation and bullpen for the stretch run. Now we want to focus on position players.

While it's a less significant group, Oakland does feature three talented minor-league infielders who are just about ready to make an impact at the major league level:

Jorge Mateo

The A's No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is having a phenomenal season at Triple-A Las Vegas. Mateo, 24, is slashing .302/.339/.537 with 17 home runs, 25 doubles, 13 triples, 72 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.

Mateo has spent the majority of the year at shortstop but has also started 14 games at second base. Of course, Marcus Semien owns the A's shortstop position, but Mateo might get an opportunity at second base come September, especially if Jurickson Profar and Franklin Barreto continue to struggle.

At the very least, Mateo should serve as a valuable pinch-runner. His speed has always been his best attribute, with MLB Pipeline ranking it as a perfect 80 on the 20-80 scale. That will definitely come in handy during the final month of the season.

Sheldon Neuse

Oakland's ninth-ranked prospect is also having a terrific season in Las Vegas. Neuse, 24, is slashing .321/.387/.543 with 19 home runs, 27 doubles, and 84 RBI. His biggest problem is the position he plays -- third base happens to be occupied in Oakland for the next several years.
 
However, Neuse has moved around the infield a bit this season, starting six games at shortstop and three at second base. He's even played three games in left field. That type of versatility will help Neuse's chances of getting playing time at the big-league level this year, particularly at second base.

Even if Neuse doesn't get many starts, he could provide the A's with a dangerous power bat off the bench in late-inning situations.

[RELATED: Report: A's have called Mets on potential Syndergaard trade]

Sean Murphy

The A's No. 3 prospect is undoubtedly the team's catcher of the future. Murphy is ranked as the fourth-best catcher prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.

The 24-year-old has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, but returned to the Las Vegas Aviators last week and went 6-for-12 with four home runs and nine RBI in his first three games back. Overall, Murphy is slashing .349/.422/.640 with six homers and 18 RBI in 22 games this year in Triple-A.

Incredibly, Murphy's hitting is not even his best attribute. His defense is MLB-ready and would rank above average already. Now that his bat is coming alive too, he has a chance to be one of the best catchers in the game.

Murphy will almost certainly take over the A's starting catcher job next season, but he has a chance to make an early impact in September this year as well, especially if Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann falter.

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Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- It was like a scene from an old horror movie. The giant beast rises from the water, prepared to destroy everything in his path. Nothing can stop it.

Such was the scene at Pebble Beach on Sunday. With the late tee times going off, golf's Godzilla emerged on the first tee clad in a blue Nike pullover, a wad of chewing tobacco packed in his lip. 

There Brooks Koepka stood, ready to add Pebble Beach to a list of courses he's eviscerated en route to a major championship. A list that includes Shinnecock Hills, Bethpage Black, Bellerive and Erin Hills. 

Unfazed by the pressure of being four shots back on a U.S. Open Sunday. Unbothered by the enormity of the task of winning three straight U.S. Opens. Koepka stuck his tee in the ground on the first tee, and his unstoppable rampage began. 

He birdied No.1. Then, after losing his tee shot into the hospitality area on No. 2, it appeared Godzilla had met a roadblock.

Once again, Koepka didn't flinch. 

His recovery shot found the deep rough on the lip of the bunker that splits the second hole. But Koepka muscled his third shot out of the spinach to within five feet of the hole. A ho-hum par. 

The beast marched on. 

Birdies at three, four and five brought Koepka to 11-under for the tournament, on the precipice of overtaking leader Gary Woodland. History was within his grasp.

But eventually, someone discovers a way to slay the beast. Sometimes he stops himself. 

After paring six and seven, Koepka bogeyed No. 8. Godzilla can bleed. 

Meanwhile, Woodland kept grinding out pars, never giving Koepka an opening. The four-time major winner would have to make a move on the back nine in order to complete his destruction of another U.S. Open field.

After a birdie at 11, Koepka bogeyed 12 but remained only one shot back of Woodland. 

Koepka struck the ball beautifully all week, but he couldn't get the putts to fall. As he parred his way through the back nine, Godzilla started to stumble, and on 18, when his putt to get to 11-under darted in front of the hole, he fell back into the Pacific Ocean.

His quest for three straight U.S. Opens would come up three strokes shy of Woodland, who birdied 18 to finish at 13 under. Koepka became the first golfer in history to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a U.S. Open and not take home the trophy.

"It doesn't sting," Koepka said after the round. "I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week -- it happened at Augusta -- it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there."

Koepka has become the big-game hunter over the past two years. Arriving at major championships with an icy demeanor and the lone goal of eviscerating the field with his brute strength and unwavering will.

Sometimes the monster gets beat. Woodland was triumphant Sunday, doing what few have been able to do recently and only he has been able to do in the last three U.S. Opens: beat Brooks. 

[RELATED: Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win]

The U.S. Open leaves Pebble Beach with Koepka's name half carved into the lone tree in the 18th fairway. He was a few rolls of his putter from U.S. Open history.

From achieving it at this iconic venue, where the Pacific Ocean kisses the rocks and time melts away as quickly as the water from the shoreline of Stillwater Cove. 

"Yeah, it's cool. It's an awesome theater," Koepka said of Pebble Beach. "Anytime that you can play in a place that's as beautiful as this, it's pretty neat. You look out to the left and you've got the Pacific and you see all the fans on the right, it's a unique place. All the history behind it and to play a major championship here is quite special. Even you play the AT&T here it's a cool feeling. And it's one I can't wait to get back to."

Gary Woodland won the day. 

But Brooks Koepka, like Godzilla, is bound to return.