A player can have a lucrative career without winning on the PGA Tour. Wyndham Clark had earned over $7.4 million in 133 winless starts.
On Sunday, however, Clark picked up his maiden victory and, boy, was it a biggie. Clark made $3.6 million for capturing the Wells Fargo Championship, a designated Tour event.
Clark knows all about how well these elevated tournaments pay. His tie for 10th at this year’s WM Phoenix Open (a designated event) was worth $485,000. That’s more than he earned in his playoff loss at the 2020 Bermuda Championship.
Clark held a two-shot lead over world No. 5 Xander Schauffele and said after Saturday’s third round he was looking forward to the challenge of a high-stakes final round and was curious how he’d handle the pressure. The 29-year-old shot a 3-under 68 on Sunday at Quail Hollow to finish at 19 under and win by four shots over Schauffele for his maiden victory on Tour.
After a handful of close calls, Clark was truly beginning to wonder if he’d ever win on Tour.
“I know that sounds crazy because I’ve only been out here five years, but I had a lot of chances to where I was within two or three shots either going into the back nine or starting on a Sunday and I always seem to fall short, and not only that, but seem like I fell back in positions,” Clark explained. “I think in the past I sometimes shied away maybe from those pressure moments because I would get too amped up.”
“Today, I was excited. When he made putts, I was like, ‘yeah, all right, now I’ve got to do it.’ I just think Xander and I fed off each other really well Saturday and Sunday,” Clark continued. “He played amazing and I think a lot of how good I played was because he was putting pressure on me. So I just felt like all right, I can’t just coast in and make a bunch of pars, I’ve got to make birdies. Yeah, I really like how I handled the pressure.”
Schauffele, 29, shot a 1-under 70 on Sunday to finish runner-up at 15 under and inside the top five for the fifth time this season. Harris English (69) and Tyrrell Hatton (70) finished T-3 at 12 under.
“I was playing terribly,” he recalled. “There’s many times when I stormed off the golf course in qualifying or in tournaments and just drove as fast as I could, I didn’t know where I was going. I just, just the pressure of golf and then not having my mom there and someone that I could call was really tough for me.”
He didn’t give up the game. He got a fresh start at Oregon for one final season in college and capped it with a win at the Pac-12 Championship.
His pro career started well and he spent just one season on the Korn Ferry Tour before earning his PGA Tour card.
Then he stalled again. He maintained his PGA Tour status each year, but couldn’t break through for his first win.
Just how career changing a payday is that? Well, how about you consider the fact that Clark’s total earnings on the PGA Tour in the 133 previous starts before this week were $7,405,024. In other words, Clark just claimed nearly 50 percent of his entire career winnings on tour in four days.
Even more intriguing is the size of the prize money payout compared to Clark’s previous biggest payday on tour. Earlier this year, Clark finished T-10 at the WM Phoenix Open, a designated event that earned him $485,000. Clark’s triumph on Sunday in Charlotte was thus nearly seven times larger than his previous best payday as a pro golfer.
Clark pulled his tee shot left on No. 1 over the cart path, leaving him a difficult approach shot leading to a bogey. Schauffele pulled into the lead with birdies at Nos. 3 and 7 and it looked like Clark, who was struggling just to make birdie over the first six holes, might collapse under the pressure of trying to win his first tournament.
“My caddie John Ellis kept preaching to me that it’s going to be challenging and get your mind wrapped around it,” Clark said.
The momentum changed on the eighth hole.
Clark chipped to within 4 feet and rolled in a short birdie putt to pull back into a tie and then took the lead for good at the turn when Schauffele’s par putt lipped out on No. 9.
Schauffele started struggling with his driver, missing four straight fairways. Clark kept the pressure on sinking birdie putts at No. 10 and 12 sandwiched in between a Schauffele bogey on No. 11, pushing the lead to four strokes with six holes left to play.
Clark matched Schauffele’s birdies at the 14th and 15th holes to maintain a four-shot edge heading into the difficult closing three holes known as the Green Mile. From there, the only real drama was whether he’d break McIlroy’s tournament record.
Clark dedicated the win to his mother, who got him into golf and later died of breast cancer when he was 19 years old. He contemplated giving up the game after her death but didn’t.
“I’m glad I stuck it out,” Clark said.
McIlroy, playing for the first time since missing the cut at the Masters, played the final three rounds in 3-over par, including a 72 on Sunday to finish even par for the tournament.
He had nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts, including wins in 2010, 2015 and 2021 at Quail Hollow, but this was his worst outing since missing the cut 12 years ago.
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