Gary Woodland was relieved when he didn't have to finish qualifying for this week's U.S. Open.
He shot 68 in the final round of the Memorial Tournament last Sunday in Dublin, Ohio. That moved Woodland into 41st place in the world golf rankings, and the top 50 in the new rankings today automatically qualify for the Open.
"That was a big key," Woodland said. "There was extra pressure knowing I had to finish in the top 10. It was nice to accomplish that."
Woodland is sure that his ranking won't drop below 50, so he withdrew from his 36-hole sectional qualifier last Monday as well as this week's PGA Tour stop, the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
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That's given him time to get treatment for an injury and to work on his game in preparation for the Open, which starts Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
"I had a rib pop out during the Byron Nelson tournament in Dallas," Woodland said Friday. "I withdrew from Memphis to rest it. I just wanted to be cautious."
Woodland said being an athlete who is used to being in good shape — he played a year of basketball at Washburn University in his native Topeka before playing college golf at Kansas — has helped his game.
"Definitely the lower body stability helps," he said. "I have core strength but the lower body is where I get my swing and I have a lot of balance down there and power low."
Woodland got off to a fast start this year, finishing in the top 10 in three of his first six tournaments, including a playoff loss to Jhonattan Vegas in the Bob Hope Classic in January. Woodland broke through for his first PGA Tour win at the Transitions Championship on March 20 in Palm Harbor, Fla.
"I played well at the end of last year, and that gave me some confidence." Woodland said. "Then I played well at the start of this year. When I finally won, it took a little pressure off."
Woodland tied for 24th place at the Masters on April 10, three weeks after his first win, and then decided to take some time off.
For the next three weeks, Woodland did nothing but work on his short game. Phil Mickelson, known as one of the PGA Tour's best on short shots around the greens, noticed improvement while playing with Woodland.
"He told me my short game was phenomenal," Woodland said. "The past couple of weeks, I have hit the ball well and had a good short game. That is what you have to have to be successful in the majors."
Woodland said he got a chance to play Congressional three weeks ago and plans to arrive early to get in more work on the course before play starts Thursday.
"It's a phenomenal course," he said. "It's a long, hard course. It fits my game pretty well. I'm excited to get there."
Because of the improvements in his short game, Woodland believes he can be a contender.
"I'm playing better than ever," he said. "I'm hitting the ball better. My short game is 10 times better. If I make some putts, I expect to do well."