Gary Woodland, a former basketball player from Kansas, won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach on Sunday. (Harry How/Getty Images)

By Chuck Culpepper in Pebble Beach, Calif.

The persnickety MRI that golf trains upon its subjects spent Sunday analyzing the central nervous system of a semi-anonymous 35-year-old from Topeka, Kan. The 119th U.S. Open dangled before him an experience he had never tried, a dream he had never lived and a leader board that kept screaming the harrowing proper noun “KOEPKA.” The galleries and the geeks and maybe even the seals around Pebble Beach Golf Links got a hard, hard look at Gary Woodland’s innards.

Well, they solidified. They even managed to regather themselves after they looked like they were tilted toward fraying in the middle of the round. It looked as if there might be some line of rugged nerves running from the guy who once made 14 of 15 free throws in a 2002 Kansas state championship basketball game to the guy who held on through the back nine, closed with four pars and two birdies, closed utterly with a 30-foot birdie and rode a 69 to a 13-under-par 271, a three-shot win and a first major title.

“It’s hard to [describe],” Woodland said.

Woodland’s sturdiness in rebuffing a day’s worth of wildly talented challengers may have found its ultimate compliment in the identity of the runner-up. Brooks Koepka, continuing to cement his place as one of the uppermost American athletes of the late 2010s, birdied four of his first five holes. He sent virtuoso approaches to the third and fourth greens, the ball spinning back obediently. His stretched a bogey-less streak to 35 holes across three days before his blips on Nos. 8 and 12. He howled one shot back for a good while. He did precisely what he has come to do on major Sundays: He calmly, sturdily menaced.

He just could not ever tie or surmount Woodland, so he settled for some statistics merely astonishing. With his four rounds in the 60s and his closing 68, his bid to become the first man since 1905 to win three consecutive U.S. Opens wound up as the best such bid since Willie Anderson won a third straight at Myopia Hunt Club near Boston. In 1952 at the Northwood Club in Dallas, two-time defending champion Ben Hogan ended up third, five shots behind winner Julius Boros.

Koepka’s numbers preen still more. He has won four of the past 10 majors played, of course, and four of his past nine, but his past six have read like something far-fetched: win, tie for 39th, win, second, win, second. He became the first player to finish in the top two of the season’s first three majors since Tiger Woods in 2005.

“It was awesome to come this close to going three in a row,” the 29-year-old Floridian said. “It’s incredible. Anytime you compete in a major is special, and to have the chance to go back-to-back-to-back, that was pretty cool. I didn’t really think about it until I was done on 18 and realized how close I actually was to kind of, I guess, making history — but kind of tying it, I guess you could say. But it’s a cool feeling to know.”

All day, the bigger names nipped at Woodland from behind — and not just Koepka. Playing partner and 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, one shot behind at the outset, briefly tied Woodland. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, nibbled for a while. Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, birdied five of his first 12 holes and looked bound for something remarkable until he ebbed. Rory McIlroy bubbled around below with a messy if colorful trip rife with six birdies, three bogeys and two double bogeys.

But Rose’s week-long penchant for getting into and then eluding trouble finally eluded him. A story of three players — Woodland, Koepka and Rose — became a story of two, just Woodland and Koepka.

When Woodland and others look back at how he warded off such a force, they won’t find any storybook shots of the ilk of Tom Watson here in 1982, but they will find two turns of highbrow fortitude: one at No. 14, one at No. 17.

On the par-5 14th with a one-shot lead, after he had made a brief habit of sending balls into the rough, he stood on the fairway, 263 yards away. “It would have been pretty easy to lay up there,” he said, but his caddie, Brennan Little, said: “Let’s go. Let’s go.” With a 3-wood and a heap of guts, he blasted the thing until it cleared the green-front bunker that wished to eat it, smacked onto the green and rested harmlessly on the fringe.

“It was one of the better swings I’ve made all week,” said the man who had only four bogeys (a U.S. Open record) and no three-putts (an unbreakable U.S. Open record).

He birdied from there, crucially.

On the par-3 17th, he shipped a tee shot that seemed it might be croaking of nervousness to the front part of a two-part green, in the exurbs relative to the pin. As he prepared to chip from there, the guy long known as an athletic ball-banger thought of the part of his game that enabled such a win as this: his short game, painstakingly fashioned with the help of a coach, Pete Cowen.

“It came off perfectly,” Woodland said. “I clipped it nicely.”

It went through the air, hit the ground, stalled for just a second as if to report back that it was doing what it was supposed to do, then rested three feet from the cup.

By then, as Koepka tried to get within one on No. 18 but saw his birdie putt go by the front door and edge rightward on by, all that remained was a final hole that Woodland played safely until his unneeded birdie putt went in anyway.

“I played great,” Koepka said. “Nothing I could do. Gary played a great four rounds. That’s what you’ve got to do to win a U.S. Open, win a major championship, and hats off to him. Cool way to go out on 18, to make that bomb. He deserves it. He’s worked hard, and I’m happy for him.”

With that, the former basketball player who began his college career at Division II Washburn University in Topeka, then transferred to Kansas after one season and six points per game to concentrate on golf, had become a major champion — 31 majors into his career, after the first 27 yielded no top-10 finishes. He had piled a closing 69 atop a 68 on Thursday, a magical 65 on Friday and a 69 on Saturday. “I don’t think my game’s where it needs to be,” he said, “but it’s getting there. I’ve become a more complete player. I’ve got more shots.”

He had gotten started kind of late, focus-wise, so he sat at an interview dais and told of playing an exhibition basketball game for Washburn at Kansas during his freshman year. The decision to change tack in life, he said, “really got forced on me [because that night] I guarded Kirk Hinrich and, like: ‘Okay, I need to find something else. This isn’t going to work.’ . . . That was a different level.”

So, of course, is Koepka, but in another game. And then so, of course, at this “awesome theater” as Koepka called it, was Woodland.

Sunday’s highlights

By Cindy Boren and Des Bieler in Washington

Gary Woodland won the U.S. Open on Sunday at Pebble Beach for his first major title. The 35-year-old Kansas native, who began the day with a one-stroke lead over Justin Rose, held off four-time major winner Brooks Koepka on the back nine.

Woodland, who had three PGA Tour wins after starting play on the circuit in 2009, remained as cool as the weather, which was overcast in Pebble Beach, Calif. He shot a 2-under-par 69 on Sunday to finish at 13 under.

Woodland finished his round in spectacular fashion, draining a lengthy putt on the 18th hole for a birdie when three putts would have sufficed for the victory. However, an even more impressive — and crucial — shot came on the 17th hole.

The considerable distance between Woodland’s ball and the 17th hole, combined with the hourglass shape of the sloped green, made a birdie putt almost impossible and brought into play a potential three-putt for bogey. Instead, he pulled out a wedge and produced a brilliant attempt that nearly went in, leading to an impressive par.

That sequence preserved Woodland’s two-shot lead, after Koepka had twice come within one on the back nine. Woodland was able to play the final hole with less pressure than he otherwise might have experienced, though he rarely evinced any strain Sunday.

Of his clutch wedge shot on the 17th green, Woodland said while accepting congratulations: ″I actually had that shot earlier this week, it was the second time I got up and down. … Just trying to eliminate the big number."

Asked if he ever allowed himself to “dream this big" as he approached a career-altering result, Woodland said, “I never let myself get ahead, never allowed myself to think the tournament was over.”

Koepka, coming off a second straight PGA Championship title and seeking a third straight U.S. Open victory, shot 68 to finish at 10 under. Rose was in contention for much of the day but he stumbled down the stretch and finished at 7 under, tied for third with Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm and Chez Reavie.

Rory McIlroy, another four-time major winner, started the day five shots behind Woodland but fell back, shooting 1 over to finish in a three-way tie for ninth.

Tiger Woods, who won the Masters in April, started his round well off the pace and proceeded to bogey four of the first six holes. However, he immediately bounced back with birdies at Nos. 7 and 8, and he also birdied 13, 14, 16 and 18 to card a 2-under 69, his best score of the week.

“Got off to another crappy start and was able to fight it off,” said Woods, who finished in a tie for 21st at 2 under for the tournament. “Turned back around and got it to under par for the week, which normally is a good thing, but this week the guys are definitely taking to it.”

Remarkable par save for Woodland

Things got dicey for Gary Woodland at the 17th hole despite his two-shot lead at the time. He landed his opening shot at the par-3 hole on the far upper-right side, leaving a nearly impossible putt across the hourglass-shaped green.

Instead, Woodland used a wedge nearly to perfection, almost holing out. As it was, Woodland easily drained a three-footer to save par, and quite possibly win the tournament.

The only other player with a realistic chance at winning, Brooks Koepka, missed a makable putt of his own at the 18th, and he finished at 10 under. That gave Woodland, at 12 under, a welcome margin for error as he took his turn on No. 18.

Woods content with fighting off “crappy” start

Tiger Woods didn’t have the U.S. Open for which he’d hoped, as he shot 2 under for the tournament but was in a tie for 21st as the leaders finished up. However, his round of 69 Sunday was his best of the week, and he was able to overcome a terrible start with a torrid finish.

“Got off to another crappy start and was able to fight it off,” said Woods (via Golfweek), who had four bogeys in his first six holes but made six birdies after that. “Turned back around and got it to under par for the week, which normally is a good thing, but this week the guys are definitely taking to it.”

Woods gained notice for wearing KT Tape on his neck, but he downplayed injury concerns in comments after his round.

“It’s all the same. It’s been like that for years,” Woods said. “The forces have to go somewhere.

"And if they’re not in the lower back, they’re in the neck, and if they’re not, they’re in the mid-back, and if not, they go to the knee. You name it.”

Rose falling off pace

It was looking like a three-man chase for the U.S. Open, but Justin Rose all but took himself out of the running with a stretch of three bogeys in four holes between the 12 and the 15th. Rose, looking for his second major title after winning the 2013 U.S. Open, fell to 7-under, putting him in a four-way tie for third with Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm and Chez Reavie.

Gary Woodland nearly birdied the 15th but settled for a par that kept him at 12-under, two shots ahead of Brooks Koepka.

Woodland retakes two-shot lead

Brooks Koepka had again gotten to within one shot of Gary Woodland, but Woodland took advantage of a gutsy shot on the 14th hole to regain his two-shot lead.

Woodland carried a fairway wood over 250 feet and landed it just off the tight left side of the 14th green, then two-putted for a birdie and an overall score of 12-under. He had bogeyed the 12th hole to drop to 11-under, but showed nerve — and prodigious skill — two holes later, giving Koepka an enormous challenge in trying to catch up to him again.

Koepka gets to within one but falls back

Little by little, Brooks Koepka appeared to be reeling in U.S. Open leader Gary Woodland as the final round progressed. With a birdie at No. 11, Koepka got to within one stroke, at 11-under and 4-under on the day.

But Koepka proceeded to bogey the next hole and fell back to two behind Woodland. Koepka was forced to wait on the tee at the par-3 12th after Louis Oosthuizen, in the group ahead, hit his drive far to the right and took some time to get back on the green.

Koepka then mishit his own drive and couldn’t save par with a 12-foot putt. It was the second bogey of the round for Koepka, who also had five birdies to that point.

Woodland has two-shot lead through nine

Gary Woodland made the turn Sunday in excellent position to win the U.S. Open, with a score of 1-under on the day, 12-under for the tournament and a two-shot lead through nine holes. But he failed to go out without a blemish, as he made bogey at No. 9. it was just his third bogey of the tournament.

Brooks Koepka had gotten to within two, but he bogeyed the eighth hole, while Justin Rose followed suit with his own bogey there.

That left Koepka and Rose tied for second at 10-under in what was starting to feel like a three-man race for the championship. Adam Scott and Xander Schauffele were tied for fourth at 8 under, and Louis Oosthuizen had a double at No. 10 to slip into a four-way tie for sixth at 7 under.

Woods finishes strong

It might have been too little, too late, but Tiger Woods can take something positive out of his closing stretch at Pebble Beach. The 15-time major winner began Sunday in awful fashion, bogeying four of the first six holes. But he pulled things together quickly, birdieing Nos. 7 and 8 before doing the same at 13, 14, 16 and 18.

The result was a round of 69, Woods’s best of the tournament, and a feel-good finish that produced roars from the gallery. Woods ended the tournament at 2-under, good at that point for a tie for 20th. If that holds up, he’ll have his best U.S. Open result since a tied for fourth in 2010.

Scott is having a round

With a birdie at the 12th hole, Adam Scott moved to 6-under on the day, 9-under for the tournament and into a tie for fourth place. The 38-year-old Aussie put himself on track to have the best round of the day, after also birdieing the third, ninth and 10th holes, adding an eagle at No. 6.

Scott, the 2013 Masters winner, is coming off an eighth-place finish at the PGA Championship. But he hit a very wayward drive at No. 13 on Sunday, putting his bogey-free day in jeopardy.

Koepka is making a big early move

Brooks Koepka is doing what he does — put himself into position to win a major. The defending two-time U.S. Open champion, who can also say the same for the PGA Championship, has blistered Pebble Beach in the early going Sunday and took sole possession of second place after five holes.

The 29-year-old, who finished second to Tiger Woods at the Masters this year, needed just one putt for birdie on four of those holes, for a 4-under start. In the process, he jumped over Justin Rose and moved to within two shots of Gary Woodland, who was leading the tournament at 13 under.

Woodland needed birdies on the second and third holes just to keep Koepka at arm’s length. Rose remained even through four on his round, and was in third at 10 under.

A strong start for Oosthuizen and Koepka; a nightmare for Rory

Louis Oosthuizen opened his final round with a statement, a birdie that moved him all alone into third place at 8 under. He quickly had company from Brooks Koepka, whose birdie at No. 1 moved him into a tie with Oosthuizen. Both players quickly added another birdie, Koepka on No. 3 and Oosthuizen on No. 4, to move to 9 under par and put pressure on Gary Woodland.

Woodland, the leader, got a birdie of his own on No. 2 to move to 12 under for the tournament.

Rory McIlroy, however, had a horrible lie in the tall grass on No. 2 and hit the kind of shot weekend golfers know all too well. The ball went just a few feet into the bunker and his 8-footer for bogey missed, dropping him further behind the lead group.

Hovland chases history

Viktor Hovland may just end up in the record books.

With a round of 3-under 68 or better Sunday, he would break the 72-hole scoring record for an amateur in the U.S. Open. That record was set by Jack Nicklaus 59 years ago.

He’s also trying to become the first golfer since Matt Kuchar to be the low amateur at both the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same season. Hovland, 21, helped Oklahoma State win the NCAA title last year. He was 4 under through 10 holes on Sunday.

Here comes Molinari

Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who won last year’s British Open and finished in a tie for second at the 2017 PGA Championship, had a hot start with birdies on three of his first five holes moving him to 5 under, six shots behind Woodland. Is he about to make a run?

Tiger, Phil both struggling

The strains of “Happy Birthday” echoed across Pebble Beach, but there were no surprise gifts from the golfing gods for Phil Mickelson, who spent his 49th birthday playing in the final round of the U.S. Open.

Nor did the gods smile on Tiger Woods.

Mickelson was even through his first nine holes after three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey, but then bogeyed two of the first five holes of the second nine, putting him 5 over for the tournament. He closed out the final round with a birdie, but finished well out of the running at 4 over, in the only one of golf’s majors that he has not won.

As for Woods, he just was not sharp to start his round, with four bogeys on his first six holes. He appeared to be hurting a bit, or perhaps he was just a little stiff, as he made bogeys and dropped to 2 over par on the first two holes. He misread a 21-foot birdie putt on No. 3 but saved par with a 4½-foot putt.

Although he saved par on No. 4, too, he settled for a bogey at 5 and again at 6 as discomfort showed on his face. He finally got a stroke back with a birdie on No. 7, putting him 3 over for the tournament, 14 shots behind the leader.

Tiger goes to the tape

Woods made something of a splash Saturday when he arrived at Pebble Beach sporting two pieces of black KT Tape on either side of the back of his neck. When he arrived for the final round, the tape was in place again and he was wearing two shirts (one long-sleeved) and a sleeveless sweater on a chilly and breezy day.

"When it’s cold like this everything is achy. It’s just part of the deal,” Woods, 43, told reporters. “It’s all the same. It’s been like that for years. The forces have to go somewhere. And if they’re not in the lower back, they’re in the neck, and if not there, they’re in the mid-back and if not there, they go to the knee. You name it.”

It’s all a consequence of the numerous back surgeries he has had. KT Tape, according to its website, is “designed to relieve pain while supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments.” Tom Brady famously used it when he sliced open his hand before Super Bowl LII.

“My back impacts every shot I play, it’s just part of the deal,” Woods said. “Let me put it this way, I feel every shot I hit. I think that’s always going to be the case from here going forward.”

Happy Father’s Day

If it’s Father’s Day, it must be the final round of the U.S. Open, right? It’s provided a number of special moments over the years.

Background reading

Gary Woodland leads U.S. Open by a stroke, with some hard-charging stars looming

Some sort of humdinger of a U.S. Open seemed to sprout Saturday seaside when the contenders went ahead and treated crammed galleries to a gasping show of carnival shots and courage. It left one hell of a leader board heading for the finale Sunday with a handful of stars still chasing a semi-anonymous Kansan, as they did all day Saturday with aplomb. Their aplomb couldn’t catch up because the Kansan, Gary Woodland, decorated Pebble Beach Golf Links with unfathomable saves sprinkled amid his athletic steadiness. (Read more)

Boswell: U.S. Open, as golf’s toughest test, can yield stunning winners. Gary Woodland could be next.

The U.S. Golf Association always meets its goal of “identifying the best golfer” with its stern tests — except in the many instances, including Jack Fleck, Ed Furgol, Lawson Little, Sam Parks and Olin Dutra, when its winners ranged from good players but unlikely champs to preposterous. So when everyone you know agrees that Brooks Koepka will win his third straight U.S. Open on Sunday, you can tell them, “Not so fast.” (Read more)

Boswell: Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods paint a sharp contrast in second round of U.S. Open

In what seems like a blink, two golfers have become the central focus of their sport. Brooks Koepka arrived. And Tiger Woods returned. In a game full of superior players and fine story lines, they stand apart. (Read more)

Rogue golf cart injures five spectators at U.S. Open

A runaway golf cart hit and injured five people near Pebble Beach’s 16th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday. (Read more)