Clark would have made his mom proud during Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club, producing big shot after big shot over the final nine holes, en route to becoming just the fourth player in U.S. Open history to win the tournament after making the cut for the first time. Clark’s even par 70 on Sunday left him at 10-under 270, one shot better than runner-up Rory McIlroy who also shot 70 over the final day. Scottie Scheffler finished third at 7-under 273. Murrieta native Rickie Fowler, who started the day tied for the lead with Clark, was 5 over on Sunday, finishing in a tie for fifth.
While Sunday was Father’s Day, Clark’s thoughts during and after the round were on his late mother.
“I felt like my mom was watching over me,” Clark said as he fought back tears. “You know, my mom was — she was so positive and such a motivator. She’d be crying tears of joy. She called me winner when I was little, so she would just say, `I love you, Winner.’ She had that mantra of play big. I was a mama’s boy, so there would be a lot of hugging and crying together. But I know she’d be very proud of me. I miss her, and it’s obviously great to think about her, and being here in LA (where she lived for several years) and winning something like this makes me think of her even more.”
Clark demonstrated tremendous resiliency throughout the round. On the par-5, eighth hole, his approach shot came up just short and ended up buried in a bush beside the green. Unable to see the ball, he swung and whiffed on his first shot. Keeping his composure, he knocked his next shot on the green and two-putted for bogey.
“In that moment my mind started going fast, but the good thing is I’ve done things like that in the past. I’ve learned from a lot of mistakes I’ve made, and so has my caddie, John. He said we’re fine. It’s no big deal. We got my wits about me and I got that up-and-down. Obviously that’s momentum. Even though I made a bogey it didn’t kill me and kept me in the tournament. That was a huge point in the round.”
On the par-4 18th hole, Clark hit his tee shot down the right side of the fairway. His second shot was short of the green, leaving him 59 feet, 9 inches to the hole. With a gallery of hundreds of fans gathering on the fairway behind him, he calmly two-putted for the victory. He buried his head in his hands and hugged his caddie, John Ellis.
With early mistakes knocking Fowler and Scheffler out of the hunt, it was a two-man battle down the stretch between Clark and McIlroy, a four-time major winner. Clark, 29, had made the cut in two majors before this week. But after picking up his first PGA Tour victory at the Wells Fargo Championship five weeks ago, Clark’s confidence swelled. He came into the week vowing to be “cocky.”
Clark was that and more over the final 18 holes. He became only the fourth player in the past 100 years to win the U.S. Open the first time after making the cut in the tournament, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Lucas Glover had been the most recent to do it, in 2009.
Clark started the final round as the co-leader at 10 under with Fowler, a California native, who was trying to capture his first major championship. Clark picked up a birdie on the first hole and a bogey on the second. After adding two more birdies on Nos. 4 and 6, Clark avoided near disasters on the final two holes of the front nine.
The par-5 eighth had been the easiest hole on the North Course all week, but it wasn’t for Clark on Sunday. His second shot was nearly perfect but came up about a yard short and settled deep into native grass in a barranca, a deep gorge in front of the green. He had an awful lie and stance and swung under the ball on his third shot. Then he popped his ball out and over the green. He had a great chip to about 3 feet to save a bogey. It could have been worse. He dropped to 11 under after eight holes, 1 ahead of McIlroy and 3 in front of Fowler.
“The tough thing was I couldn’t see where I was hitting,” Clark said. “The lie was not bad, but I couldn’t see. Going under that ball obviously was the worst-case scenario, and then I hit the next one. I didn’t even know where it went. But in that moment my mind started going fast, but the good thing is I’ve done things like that in the past. I’ve learned from a lot of mistakes I’ve made, and so has my caddie, John. He said, ‘Hey Dub, we’re fine. We’re just got to get this up-and-down and we’re fine.'”
Then, on the par-3 ninth, Clark’s tee shot was short, and his ball settled in the native grass again. He had a near-perfect chip shot above the hole, and his ball rolled down the green to about 6 feet. He knocked in the putt and made the turn at 1-under 34.
Lise Clark introduced her older son to golf. She liked to tell him, “I love you, winner.” Wyndham grew up playing at Cherry Hills Country Club. His mother passed the baton to her husband, who started playing the game when Wyndham was 3 years old.
“My mom first took me to play golf, but my dad was the one that really got me into golf,” Clark said this week. “Every time I’d go golf at a young age, it was with my dad. There’s so many memories of us leaving at 6 a.m., our family on like a family vacation and we’d come back and play golf before noon, and that was the only way my mom would let us do that.”
Level in fifth with Fowler were Australian Min Woo Lee and England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who was mere inches away from leveling Fowler and Schauffele’s historic record following a blistering final round.
Fleetwood shot two eagles and four birdies to soar 32 places up the leaderboard, but saw his closing seven-foot birdie effort roll agonizingly wide to end on a 63.
Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick finished tied-17th at one-under overall, as did last month’s PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.
The fourth and final men’s major of the year, The Open Championship, gets underway at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on July 20. Drama ensued at McIlroy’s 14th hole when his approach, caught by the wind, sunk into the face of a bunker. The Northern Irishman dropped to his knees in anguish, but received a boost when rules officials deemed his ball broke the surface, granting him a drop in the rough ahead of the bunker.
It was short-lived relief however, as his subsequent nine-foot putt for par rolled wide. At long last, McIlroy bogeyed, and Clark punished him, promptly birdieing the same hole to take a three shot cushion into his final five holes.
But the first sign of nerves quickly followed for Clark. As McIlroy, going aggressive, applied immediate pressure with a birdie at the 16th, the American made back-to-back bogeys. Suddenly, the lead was back to just one.
Clark steadied the ship with a par to take a one shot advantage with him on his walk to the par-four 18th tee. Up ahead, McIlroy’s long-range birdie effort rolled narrowly wide, putting the American a par away from the US Open title.
More such shots followed. On the par-3 ninth, he was on the bank of a bunker and chipped away from the flag, using the slope expertly to get it to within 7 feet for another big save. And then he clipped a pitch from a tight lie left of the 11th green to 4 feet for par.
The signature shot was his fairway metal from 282 yards on the par-5 14th to 20 feet that set up 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 left of the 16th fairway and whacked his hand on his putter when he missed a 7-foot par putt. His lead down to one shot, he got up-and-down from left of the 17th green to keep the lead.
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