Golf

U.S. Open 2019: Past major champions ready to track down Gary Woodland

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U.S. Open 2019: Past major champions ready to track down Gary Woodland

PEBBLE BEACH -- No, the Sunday Tiger roars won't be causing ripples in Stillwater Cove at the 2019 U.S. Open. But that doesn't mean the final round of the 2019 U.S. Open isn't set up for high drama. 

After firing a third-round 2-under-par 69, Gary Woodland leads the pack at 11-under, with Justin Rose one shot back. 

Woodland will go to bed Saturday with 18 holes standing between him and major championship glory. But securing that feat will be no easy task. 

When the final round descends on Pebble Beach, four past major champions will be within five strokes of Woodland, each looking to track down the 35-year-old and add to their own illustrious golf resumes. 

Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka sits four shots back as does 2010 British Open winner and four-time major runner-up Louis Oosthuizen. Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy will begin the day five shots back. Rose, as mentioned, is just one shot off the pace. 

While Woodland will stand on the first tee having the Sunday lead a major for the first time, his pursuers know what they need to do to close the gap. 

"Just keep doing what I'm doing," Kopeka said on his approach to Sunday. "Obviously whatever I'm doing is working. I don't know how many back I'm going to be. Trying to be three back going into the back nine, you never know from there, see what happens. Make a couple of birdies, put some pressure on guys.

"Yeah, I feel good. I feel like if I can just make a few putts, I feel like I could be right there, right next to Gary. And it's been very close. I'm pleased how I'm playing. I'm pleased how I'm striking the ball. And I feel as confident as ever right now."

McIlroy, fresh off a Sunday-61 in last week's Canadian Open win, knows he can't go out looking to be too aggressive.

"It's definitely not a golf course or a golf tournament where you can go chasing," McIlroy said. "And, yeah, I have to -- it's -- even though I'm still a few off the lead, it's a wonderful opportunity for me to go out there and I guess try to add to my major tally.

"I've been very pleased with how I've played all week. I feel, for the most part, today I did the right things. 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."

Rose answered every big shot Woodland made Saturday with one of his own. During his 2013 U.S. Open win, Rose trailed by two shots after the third round but was the last man standing after the carnage at Merion took out Phil Mickelson in the final round. 

The Englishman is very comfortable with where he's at. 

"One back gives me the freedom to feel like I've got everything to gain, nothing to lose," Rose said. "It's always a position that -- it doesn't mean I have to approach the day any differently, if I was one ahead. I'm close enough that I have to build my plan, build my round of golf, be disciplined.

"I'm not chasing, really, I'm so close to Gary that I have to go out and play my game tomorrow. And I think it's going to be dictated by the pin placements and the weather tomorrow as to how aggressive you can be and what it will take to win."

Oosthuizen will go into Sunday with a no-pressure mentality. 

"For us trailing, it's a little bit better feeling sort of giving it a better go," the 2010 British Open champion said. "You don't have that pressure of the lead. And just go with everything tomorrow. If you think you can take something on, take it on. And if you want to win the championship, you need to do that tomorrow."

[RELATED: McIlroy responds to idea Pebble Beach is playing easy]

Koepka is eyeing a U.S. Open three-peat. Something that hasn't been done in over 100 years. Rose, McIlroy and Oosthuizen each are looking to break long-standing major droughts. Each has the game to conquer Pebble Beach and run down Woodland on Sunday. 

A star-studded leaderboard at one of the world's most iconic venues. Sunday should be one for the books. 

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.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports, where you can watch the MLB Trade Deadline Show at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. PT on Wednesday. Also check out our comprehensive coverage of the Giants, A’s, 49ers, Raiders, Warriors, Kings and Sharks!

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.