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Legacies on the line: How a U.S. Open win could alter these careers

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The polished trophy that has been sitting next to the first tee all week at the U.S. Open is about to have a new home (or possibly return to its usual perch on Brooks Koepka’s shelf). But however things play out in the final round at Pebble Beach, someone’s legacy is about to change for the better.

Let’s examine the potential ripple effects looming on Stillwater Cove Sunday afternoon:

Gary Woodland (-11): Twelve years removed from his pro debut, Woodland could make The Leap if he were to convert his 54-hole lead. Woodland has been a solid player on the PGA Tour for nearly a decade, snagging a trio of wins, but this would be of an entirely different magnitude and might draw comparisons to Graeme McDowell’s transformation here nine years ago. Put it this way: he’d get a lot fewer questions about being a college basketball player.

Justin Rose (-10): Rose has spent six years searching for that elusive second major, having come so close two years ago in Augusta, and a win would solidify his credentials as one of the game’s greats during his time. Two titles in arguably the most difficult major to win is something that neither Arnold Palmer nor Gary Player achieved. Rose has been one of the game’s most consistent players since lifting the trophy at Merion in 2013, but a win Sunday would push him past Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Jason Day and several other accomplished players who have won majors in recent years but haven’t yet added a second.

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Brooks Koepka (-7): Simply put, Koepka’s would be an achievement not seen in over a century. Willie Anderson is the only player to win three straight U.S. Opens, having done so from 1903-05, and Koepka’s three-peat would immediately rank up there among the all-time great accomplishments. It would also be his fifth major win in the last 10 played, tie him with Phil Mickelson and leave only Tiger Woods ahead of him among active players on the majors list. It would also mean he’d have gone 1-2-1-1 in the last four majors played, a run that would put him in some rather lofty company among the greatest stretches ever.

Louis Oosthuizen (-7): Already with the career Grand Slam in runner-up finishes, Oosthuizen is clearly a big-game hunter when it comes to majors. But a U.S. Open title would go a long way toward healing the wounds of some of those near-misses, and he’d enter the company of multiple major winners while making his 2010 Open triumph seem like less of a surprise. What’s more, he’d have won majors at both St. Andrews and Pebble Beach – a feat only Woods and Jack Nicklaus can currently boast.

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Chez Reavie (-7): Sunday might be the last day that Reavie’s spot on a leaderboard elicits a “Who?” from the common golf fan. Reavie has had a solid but unremarkable career, and he’s spent more than a decade on Tour trying to add a second title of any kind to his 2008 Canadian Open win. Of any player within shouting distance of the lead, his legacy might have the biggest room to grow Sunday at Pebble.

Rory McIlroy (-6): A McIlroy win would re-establish the Ulsterman in the discussion of the game’s alpha player, add a fifth major title to tie Mickelson and prove that he can win from (far) behind. A back-nine surge along the Pacific is the stuff dreams are made of and it’s one he’ll likely need, to chase down Woodland and Rose. With nearly five years since his last major win, McIlroy could end that drought in emphatic fashion while reminding his peers that they’re facing one of the game’s all-time greats in his prime.

Matt Kuchar (-5): Kuchar is having the best season of his career at age 40, and a win Sunday would give him a maiden major at a point when many players are simply trying to hold on. Kuchar came close two years ago at Birkdale and does have a Players title to his credit, but a U.S. Open title would seal his name in the history books beyond a guy with a big bank account and toothy grin.