Golf

Tiger Woods ready to face familiar U.S. Open test at Pebble Beach

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Tiger Woods ready to face familiar U.S. Open test at Pebble Beach

MONTEREY, CA -- Two months ago, Tiger Woods sent roars echoing through the pine trees at Augusta National when he won his fifth Masters title and 15th major championship. 

When he tapped in for bogey on the 18th hole to punctuate the win, he let a primal roar and a weight appeared to be lifted from his legendary shoulders. 

He was back -- for real and in full. 

After letting his Masters win wash over him, Woods' first quest for major No. 16 didn't last long at the 2019 PGA Championship. Ailing from a cold and a month of rust on his game, Woods missed the cut by one stroke and watched Brooks Kopeka win his fourth major championship in his last eight starts. 

As the 119th U.S. Open descends on Pebble Beach this week, Woods has a sense of calm surrounding him. 

In Pebble, he'll face a familiar test, one he dominated half-a-lifetime ago when he ran away from the field at the 2000 U.S. Open, posting a score of 12-under-par to win the championship by 15 strokes. It was a tour de force the likes of which the golf world had never seen, and performance Woods credits to just putting the ball in the right spot.

"Yeah, it's crazy," Woods told reporters Tuesday. "It's been 19 years. I still remember most of the shots I hit that week. It was just one of those weeks where I don't know how I pulled it off, but on seaside poa annua, I never missed a putt inside ten feet for a week. I did the same thing at Torrey, too.

"So I've putted on poa greens well, and I grew up on it and did that week. It happened to be a very special week. I made everything. And not only that, I was hitting it well. And when I did miss it, I missed it in all the correct spots. So I had the best angles. And again, to be able to putt on greens this steep and bumpy as they get in the afternoon, and not miss a putt in under ten feet was saying something." 

Woods arrives at Pebble Beach rested but not rusty. After missing the cut at the PGA, Woods teed it back up at The Memorial, firing a final-round-67 to finish in a tie for 10th place. His play off the tee at Muirfield Village should have him feeling confident heading into his second try for major No. 16.

Woods hit 42 of 56 fairways in Dublin, Ohio., and did so with a variety of shots. His iron play always has been the calling card of his game, but Woods will need to be accurate off the tee in order to avoid the penal U.S. Open rough and find success on the California Coast, something he's done before. 

"Well, if I feel good, then I feel like I can play any venue," Woods said. "It's just that when I'm stiff and not moving as well, it becomes a little bit more difficult. Now, this week -- we're all going to be playing from virtually the same spots, and especially if it dries out. The longer guys will be hitting a shorter club; the shorter guys will be able to sneak driver down there. We're all playing from the same spots.

Now, how do you put the ball in the correct position is the key. And these greens, we don't face greens like this, this small and this steep. And so it puts a premium on iron play, because I feel like most of the field can drive the ball in the fairways, they're plenty wide, the golf course is not overly long. Where to put the ball in the right spots so you can have putts at it."

After his showing at The Memorial, Woods likes where his game is at heading into the toughest test in golf, and he is confident he can contend at a place he once eviscerated. 

"And this week I feel like I'm trending in the right direction," Woods said. "I need one more day of prep. I want to see the golf course when it's a little bit closer to game time. I don't want to -- I know they're holding it back. But I just want to see how much are they going to let it go and show us how it's going to be come Thursday."

[RELATED: Tiger, seven others with best chance to win U.S. Open]

After sending roars around the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, Woods now looks to send them cascading around the cliffs of Pebble Beach. 

His game is in the right place to do just that. 

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.