Wyndham Clark of the United States reacts to his winning putt on the 18th green during the final round of the 123rd US Open Championship at The Los Angeles Country Club on June 18, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Richard Heathcote | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images
Wyndham Clark always carried his late mother’s message to “play big.” Nothing was bigger than Sunday when he held off Rory McIlroy with one clutch shot after another to become US Open champion.
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The final act was two putts from 60 feet on the 18th hole at the Los Angeles Country Club, and the 29-year-old Clark clenched his fist as he came to rest a foot away. He tapped that in for an even-par 70 and a one-time victory over McIlroy and so many other stars.
Scottie Scheffler, the number 1 player in the world, couldn’t catch him. Neither could British Open champ Cameron Smith or Rickie Fowler, who played in a major for the third time in the final group and watched an outstanding performance from Clark, who played in only his third major this weekend.
Clark let go of his emotions at the end, as he tearfully looked up at the blue sky and covered his face with his cap as he sobbed on the green. Ten years ago, he thought about giving up golf as he struggled with the loss of his mother, Lise, to breast cancer. She was the one who kept him stable through good times and bad.
This was as good as it gets for Clark, who broke through just six weeks ago for his first PGA Tour win against an elite field in Quail Hollow.
“I felt like my mom was watching over me today,” Clark said after hoisting the silver US Open trophy. “I’ve worked so hard and dreamed about this moment for so long. I just felt like it was my time.”
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For McIlroy, it was more of a disappointment in his quest to end nine years without a major.
He opened with a birdie and didn’t make a second the rest of the way. McIlroy played a final round that typically wins a US Open – 16 pars, one bogey. Only not this one. Even as Clark showed signs of cracking during the rough finish, McIlroy was missing fairways and not giving himself any reasonable birdie opportunities.
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It was similar to St Andrews last summer at the British Open when he hit every green and couldn’t buy a putt. Instead, he will get more questions about when he will win another major.
“When I finally win this next major, it will be very, very sweet,” said McIlroy. “I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get another major championship.”
Scheffler missed too many putts early on the back nine and needed help from Clark and McIlroy who never came. He also finished with a 70 to finish third, a month after a second-place finish in the PGA Championship.
Fowler set a US Open record with 23 birdies, but like so many other majors when given the chance, he was reversed before he ever took off — three bogeys in the first seven holes. He never made up ground and shot 75.
This day belonged to Clark, who showed remarkable poise and confidence, not to mention an extraordinarily short game and a fairway metal he won’t soon forget.
He already had a two-shot lead and was a yard from an easy birdie on the par-5 eighth when his approach hit a steep bank of the barranca on the left. Barely able to see his golf ball, Clark was whacked and the ball slid several inches deeper into the thick grass.
He hammered it again, this time over the green, 20 yards away on a firm and terrifying putting surface. He chipped that to 3 feet to escape with bogey.
“That up-and-down was key to the tournament,” he said.
More such shots followed. On the par-3 ninth he was on the bank of a bunker and broke away from the flag, skillfully using the slope to get it down to 2m for another big save. And then he clipped a throw from a tight lie to the left of the 11th green to four feet for par.
The signature shot was his 282-yard fairway metal on the par-5 14th to 20 feet that yielded a two-putt birdie, giving Clark a three-shot lead with four to play.
But he made the only bogey of the day on the par-3 15th, then found a bunker to the left of the 16th fairway and hit his putter with his hand when he missed a 2-yard par putt. His lead was reduced to one shot, he bounced up and down from the left side of the 17th green to keep the lead.
The USGA allowed thousands of fans to circle the fairway short of the 18th green with so few bleachers, creating a major theater for Clark’s finish.
Fowler, still chasing his first major, returned to the 18th green to hug Clark.
“I went back in and just said, ‘Your mom was with you. She would be very proud,'” Fowler said.
Clark finished 10-under 270 and along with $3.6 million – his second such cash in the past six weeks – moves him into second place in the Ryder Cup standings.
Smith shot 67 to finish fourth. Tommy Fleetwood became the first player with two rounds of 63 in the US Open and tied for fifth place with Fowler and Min Woo Lee (67). Fleetwood also shot 63 at Shinnecock Hills in the final round of 2018.