In sports, everybody loves an underdog story. Golf fans tasted that this past weekend when Wyndham Clark, a 100-to-1 underdog heading into the week, took home the trophy at the U.S. Open late Sunday evening. Clark finished with a score of 10-under-par, edging out Rory McIlroy by one stroke after a tense final round. Clark earned his first major championship at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course, hosting their first-ever major championship.
Photo Cred: Fox Business
After day one, low scores were posted, unusual for a U.S. Open, where making birdies is typically extremely difficult. Rickie Fowler, back in the picture after a few difficult years, and Xander Schauffele both set U.S. Open records, shooting 8-under-par 62 to share the lead after day one. Clark sat two strokes back after shooting a 64.
Friday was a little tougher, as the wind picked up and the course dried out, but Fowler, Schauffele, and Clark still scored well to head into the weekend at the top of the leaderboard. McIlroy, one of the heavy favorites coming into the tournament, also stepped into the top four with a rock solid 67 in his second round.
Photo Cred: USA Today
As the weekend kicked off at L.A.C.C., the course became almost unrecognizable compared to Thursday’s player-friendly layout. The soft, receptive greens that proved so scorable during the week were now firm and fast, and scrambling for pars out of the deep, thick, rough became a challenge. After trying to keep up birdie-for-birdie with the rest of the field during the first two rounds, any score at even par or better could be considered a success.
Clark, Fowler, and McIlroy battled through Saturday’s conditions while Schauffele fell out of the mix after making a triple-bogey seven on No. 10, and it looked headed for a three-horse race on Sunday. But on the 18th hole in the dark on Saturday evening, everything started to change. McIlroy had just finished with a third-round 69 to head into the clubhouse at 9-under-par, tied with Clark, who was still playing the 18th hole. Fowler, who had his way with L.A.C.C early on, had struggled a bit but still held a two-shot lead. Clark needed a birdie to move ahead of McIlroy and into Sunday’s final pairing.
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With Fowler sitting comfortably in the middle of the green, Clark went straight at the pin with his approach shot and stuck it right on the pin, setting up an easy birdie look. Fowler lipped out his par putt and settled for a three-putt bogey. What was a two-shot lead had vanished in a matter of seconds. As it turned out, that final few minutes on Saturday night set the tone for Sunday’s finale. Fowler was unsettled from the start, not striking the ball as cleanly as he did during the first three rounds and not getting any lengthy putts to drop. He finished with a final round 75, tied for fifth at 5-under-par.
That left Clark and McIlroy in a David vs. Goliath battle for the trophy. Clark was seeking his first major, with McIlroy seeking his first since 2014, with plenty of close calls and heartbreaking defeats in between. McIlroy was solid throughout, hitting fairways and greens and playing the rock-solid, mistake-free style of golf needed to grind out a U.S. Open win, until he got the putter in hand. After a birdie on the opening hole, McIlroy couldn’t find the touch on the greens, settling for par after par and wasting plenty of opportunities to run away with the championship.
Clark was a little kore up-and-down but managed adversity well for someone new to the spotlight. He started his final round with three birdies in the first six holes and even rebounded after a disastrous bogey on the par-5 eighth (which included a whiff!) with a collection of par saves. Then, the tournament turned on the par-5 14th.
Photo Cred: Sporting News
McIlroy, playing one group in front of Clark, left his wedge shot short, plugged into the side of the greenside bunker. He had to drop it in the rough, chipping out and two-putting for a bogey to fall two shots behind. Clark hit a great shot on his second shot, setting up an eagle putt. Clark two-putted for a birdie to give himself a three-shot cushion with four holes left.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, as Clark predictably got a little tight and made a few bogeys on the closing stretch. But with McIlroy unable to break through, Clark still held a one-stroke lead on the 18th green, needing a par to win his first major championship. Standing roughly 60 feet from the hole, with fans engulfing every area surrounding the green, Clark stepped up for the biggest putt of his life. He had two putts to win.
The putt finally came to rest, just inches from the hole, Clark tapping it in for his first major championship. The emotions came flowing out immediately. McIlroy chase continued for that elusive fifth major, as he has ten top-10 finishes and 19 top-five finishes in majors since he last won in 2014. His next chance comes at The Open at Royal Liverpool, where McIlroy won nine years ago.
Photo Cred: CNBC
“I just felt like my mom was watching over me today,” said Clark after the round. Clark’s best result in a major before this one was T-75, the worst by any major winner ever. But if Clark brings the fearlessness and the big game he had this weekend, he should be a factor in many more majors.
For Clark, it is his first major, and it comes with just one other tour-level win, along with his victory at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this year. He continues to burst onto the scene in professional golf, vaulting all the way up to No. 13 in the world rankings (he ended 2022 as the world No. 163). He dedicated his win to his late mother.