Golf

Tiger enters The Masters exactly how you want him to -- the big-name underdog

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AP

Tiger enters The Masters exactly how you want him to -- the big-name underdog

There is something vaguely unsettling about Tiger Woods and The Masters this week, and it isn’t Tiger Woods or The Masters.

What it is, is the loud and persistent desperation of the golf-viewing nation that Woods BE the reason for The Masters this week. He is back playing after years of psychic and (mostly) physical issues, and his place on the odds board (12-1, behind four other golfers at 10-1) seems like the right place for him.

Except that that number will be bet down frantically this week as more and more people who want to turn back the clock 15 years throw their disposable income at what used to be. That is very much part of the Tiger Effect here – a look back at what used to be and what can probably never be again.

But in doing so, those people, most of whom are the same people who claimed that Tiger Woods changed golf, are showing that golf wasn’t changed as much as a “Tiger fixation” was created. The much-needed revolution he was supposed to have sparked in the sport was actually an army of eyeballs that watched him with a laserlike focus but then stopped watching until he came back. Indeed, the promised change in how golf looked came not on the men’s side but in the LPGA, where the leaderboard is more routinely global.

There have been great golfers in this decade – Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McElroy – but none have resonated in the same way, which is understandable given how difficult an act Woods was to follow. What we have discovered, though, is that Woods wasn’t actually a golf phenomenon but a singular phenomenon, a one-man revolution who will take the revolution with him when he retires for good.

And that’s not about him, that’s about the audience. The audience didn’t necessarily want what he was selling, they wanted him selling it, and they want him selling it now. And they will be the same people who will dismiss the sport once he re-retires because they wanted it to be about him and only him all along.

True, this is a generalization, and not all people feel this way. But no other 42-year-old who has been unhealthy for most of the past decade would be a 12-1 bet to win The Masters, or even on anyone’s mind. Tiger Woods is his own entity, and he comes bearing both the bully’s resume and the underdog’s narrative. He gives us both of the things we find most compelling in sports – the vision of the indomitable giant and the heroic underdog, all in one body.

So, Tiger Woods isn’t about Tiger Woods at all, but about the American sports fan’s twin psychoses – the big-name underdog. You know, sort of like Sister Jean sitting on the New England Patriots’ sideline.

See why it’s unsettling? That image alone just made my soul leak through my shoes.

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. 

Gary Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach

Gary Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- When Gary Woodland awoke Sunday morning holding the 54-hole lead at the 2019 U.S. Open, he did what any other father would when he's away from his family on Father's Day: FaceTime with his wife and kid. 

Then, he received a message from his swing coach Pete Cowen. 

Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment.

Leading a pack of major champions to begin the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach would be enough to rattle anyone's nerves. One look at the leaderboard to start the day and it would be easy to envision Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy or Justin Rose surpassing Woodland as he tried to win his first major championship. 

But Woodland preached the belief in himself all week. And each time it looked like he was about to give in to the pressure, he steadied himself. 

On Saturday, there was the chip-in for par at No. 12 and the 42-foot par putt at No. 14. Again, on Sunday, with Koepka charging up the leaderboard for a chance to make history by winning his third straight U.S. Open, Woodland didn't buckle. 

After a par on No. 1, he birdied the second to put some distance between himself and the hard-charging Koepka. As the day turned to twilight and the waves painted the rocks along the Pacific Coast, Woodland maintained his lead and his composure.

But Koepka and Rose would not give him the trophy.

After a bogey on No. 12, Woodland held just a one-shot lead over Koepka.

It would be a message from another special person that would get Woodland home. 

Back in February at the Waste Management Open, a video of Woodland and Special Olympian Amy Bockerstette playing the famed 16th hole went viral. 

Gary and Amy have remained in touch and have become good friends. She tweeted words of encouragement to him Saturday night and their relationship has become a special one for Woodland. 

"The only thing you can control, and I said this yesterday, the only thing I can control today is my attitude," Woodland said when asked what he's learned from Amy. "My caddie told me today when I got done that it was the best he's ever seen my attitude all week. I just try to control that because that's really all you can control. You know, Amy's attitude is phenomenal. That's something I want to teach my kids that positive energy is contagious. Life's not always going to be bells and whistles, there's going to be some bad things that happen in your life. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs but the one thing you can control is your attitude and if you do that, in the end, good things will happen. 

"Amy told me a million times when we were on that hole, 'I got this. I got this.' I told myself that a million times today. I got this."

Still leading by one shot when he stepped on the 14th tee, Woodland hammered a drive down the left side of the fairway. Instead of electing to play it safe on the Par 5, Woodland took out his 3-wood and hit his second shot to the back left of the green, giving him an easy two-putt for birdie and a two-stroke lead. 

While Rose faded down the stretch, Koepka would not. Leading by two shots with two to play and with Koepka playing the Par-5 18th, Woodland lost his tee shot on the Par-3 17th to the right. His tee shot landed at the edge of the green, some 90 feet from the hole, giving Woodland only one option to get up-and-down for what would be a championship-winning par. 

Woodland took out his 64-degree wedge, and clipped the back of the ball just perfectly. The ball landed in the middle of the green, bounced twice and rolled to within three feet of the pin. 

He laid back off the tee on 18, soaking in the walk to his coronation as a major champion. His third shot on the Par-5 18th landed 30 feet from the hole. Two putts were all that was left to major championship glory, but Woodland, as he did all week, found the bottom of the cup with one final stroke of his putter, punctuating an impressive performance at one of golf's hallowed lands. 

Two years ago, Gary and his wife Gabby were expecting twins but lost one of the children during pregnancy. Their son, Jaxson, was born prematurely but is healthy and will celebrate his second birthday next week. They are expecting twin girls in August. 

On Father's Day, Gary Woodland became a U.S. Open champion. He thought of his wife and son back home. Of his unborn daugthers. He gave his own father, the man who never let him win growing up, a huge bear hug after he secured a lifelong dream that he hopes one day his son will see. 

"Like I said, I wouldn't be here without my dad," Woodland said. "And I probably didn't realize how special it all was until I became a father. And obviously we had our struggles, and it's been documented, the losses that we've suffered. We lost a couple last year, as well. And it was tough. We thought we were done, and the identical twin girls were a surprise.

"Being a father now puts life in perspective. My whole life it's all been about trying to win. And now I'm trying to make a better life for my son than I've had. It's been a process. But today is so special from that standpoint that being a father and hopefully some day he can even see this and realize that anything is possible." 

[RELATED: Tiger makes Pebble Beach roar with final round birdie flurry]

Then, Woodland thought of Amy and her family. As he walked to the media center he FaceTimed her to celebrate his win. Her words of encouragement still hanging over his victory. 

"You got this."