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Posted November 8, 2020, 6:50 pm
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U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland hopes changes bring him 2020 Masters glory

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    Gary Woodland chips onto 1 during the third round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Augusta, Georgia. [ANDY NELSON/FOR THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

The song lyrics may not be stuck in his head.

But every time Gary Woodland steps onto a golf course, particularly when he’s practicing, Georgia is on his mind. Specifically, Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters.

“For me, it’s every day I practice,” Woodland said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about winning the Masters.”

It’s a vision shared by every other golfer that ever makes it to Augusta National. And given Woodland’s history at the Masters, it might seem closer to a dream than a reality.

In his seven appearances, Woodland has experienced minimal success. His best finish is a tie for 24th in his Masters debut in 2011, and he’s only finished in the top 30 one other time, tying for 26th in 2014.

Woodland has missed the cut three times and also withdrew with a wrist injury.

But when Woodland, currently No. 18 in the Official Wold Golf Rankings, returns to Augusta National this year, he’ll do so a transformed version of his past self.

A U.S. Open Championship, which Woodland won in June 2019 at Pebble Beach, will do that.

It was the first major championship of his career, and ironically, the last one many — including Woodland — thought he would ever win.

“I would have thought the PGA (Championship) and British (Open), set-up wise, would have been better for me earlier in my career,” Woodland said.

“With Augusta there is a lot of local knowledge that if you thought you were going to win, it might take you a little time. The PGA is more of a bomber’s setup. The British is all weather-dependent. You can get some tough conditions and the greens are usually flat and not much to them. .

“The U.S. Open is one they probably said I wouldn’t win. Tougher driving courses, scores closer to par, probably not set up perfect for me if you asked me early in my career.”

Yet Woodland defied conventional thinking with a statement-making U.S. Open performance. With World No. 1 Brooks Koepka applying pressure on Sunday in his bid for a third straight Open title, Woodland did something he had never done in any PGA tournament.

For the first time in his professional career, he turned a 54-hole lead into a title and held off Koepka. Woodland’s 3-wood from 263 yards out on No. 14 set up a birdie that gave him a two-shot lead. His chip from the far side of the No. 17 green and par save all but wrapped up the title.

It’s those shots in particular, that give Woodland a heightened confidence for this year’s Masters.

“I can draw on knowing I can hit any shot under pressure,” he said. “Obviously the chip shot on 17 at the U.S. Open, the 3-wood on No. 14 were the biggest swings I’ve made under pressure in my life. I was able to execute those. That gives me a ton of confidence going to Augusta.”

Known primarily as a long hitter early in his professional career and then for his ball-striking as he settled in on the PGA Tour, Woodland showed off areas of his game that had long been deemed his shortcomings and inhibitors in joining the game’s elite.

In winning the U.S. Open, Woodland led the field in scrambling, which also included a chip-in for par during Saturday’s third round that kept his bogey-free streak going. He also ranked near the top of the field in putting.

It’s that complete game that Woodland hopes resurfaces at Augusta National in April.

“To win a U.S. Open you have to have the complete game and I’ve worked hard to try to get there,” he said. “I don’t think I’m where I want to be by any means now, but it proves I’m doing the right things and working the right way. To come out and win a U.S. Open on one of the most iconic golf course, not just in the U.S. but the world was pretty special.”

His breakthrough actually started at Augusta National last year. While working with swing coach Pete Cowan on the range a year ago, Cowan made an observation, noting that Woodland wasn’t getting much spin on the ball.

It was too late to make an adjustment for last year’s tournament, but shortly afterwards Woodland switched 

to a Titleist prototype of its highest-spin ball, eventually signing with Titleist after his Open win. He put the ball in play a month before the U.S. Open and did so with the Masters in mind.

“A lot of (my troubles there) has been the ball,” Woodland said. “I’ve struggled getting at some of those pins and left myself in bad situations. I like to hit the golf ball low. At Augusta, with the way the course is set up, you have to come in with a higher ball flight. You need more spin to get at some of those pins. On top of that, you have to have the short game.

“I think the big deal with Augusta is you have to have all the shots. You have to be able to work the golf ball both ways. Distance control is as important that week as it is on any other week on the PGA Tour. I think that’s why you see Tiger Woods being so successful there. There’s no one who’s better at controlling the ball than he is. He’s the best in the business. So we’ve focused heavily on that. I think that will bode well at Augusta National.”

Despite never being in serious contention at the Masters, Woodland has had moments of greatness on the course. In his debut round in 2011, he lit up the back nine with birdie after birdie, putting his name on the first page of the leaderboard.

In 2014, he matched the front-nine scoring record at Augusta National with a 6-under 30, tying the likes of Phil Mickelson, KJ Choi, Greg Norman and Johnny Miller.

But those moments have been too few and far between for Woodland, who hopes his new ball, new approach and new dose of confidence lead to sustained success. Both at the Masters and beyond.

"to a Titleist prototype of its highest-spin ball, eventually signing with Titleist after his Open win. He put the ball in play a month before the U.S. Open and did so with the Masters in mind.

“A lot of (my troubles there) has been the ball,” Woodland said. “I’ve struggled getting at some of those pins and left myself in bad situations. I like to hit the golf ball low. At Augusta, with the way the course is set up, you have to come in with a higher ball flight. You need more spin to get at some of those pins. On top of that, you have to have the short game.

“I think the big deal with Augusta is you have to have all the shots. You have to be able to work the golf ball both ways. Distance control is as important that week as it is on any other week on the PGA Tour. I think that’s why you see Tiger Woods being so successful there. There’s no one who’s better at controlling the ball than he is. He’s the best in the business. So we’ve focused heavily on that. I think that will bode well at Augusta National.”

Despite never being in serious contention at the Masters, Woodland has had moments of greatness on the course. In his debut round in 2011, he lit up the back nine with birdie after birdie, putting his name on the first page of the leaderboard.

In 2014, he matched the front-nine scoring record at Augusta National with a 6-under 30, tying the likes of Phil Mickelson, KJ Choi, Greg Norman and Johnny Miller.

But those moments have been too few and far between for Woodland, who hopes his new ball, new approach and new dose of confidence lead to sustained success. Both at the Masters and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Masters Record - Gary Woodland

Year Place Score 1 2 3 4 Earnings
2019 T32 -3 70 71 74 70 $68,042
2018 T75 +10 78 76     $10,000
2017 T81 +11 75 80     $10,000
2015 T56 +3 71 76     $10,000
2014 T26 +4 70 77 69 76 $66,600
2012 63 +12 73 70 85   $10,000
2011 T24 -2 69 73 74 70 $70,400