Sport

‘PLAY BIG’

Hollywood ending for Wyndham Clark who wins US Open title for maiden major

Hollywood ending for Wyndham Clark who wins US Open title for maiden major
Wyndham Clark after winning the 123rd US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club on 18 June 2023. (Photo: Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

American Wyndham Clark announced himself as golf’s newest star with a gutsy US Open triumph at the Los Angeles Country Club on Sunday to claim his first major title.

Facing off against some of the game’s biggest names in the shadow of Hollywood, Clark tuned out some late drama to clinch a one-shot victory over Rory McIlroy.

Clark wept tears of joy after he sank a short par putt on 18 to finish the championship on 10-under par 270 behind an impressive display of power and precision.

“I feel like I belong on this stage,” said Clark, who collected the trophy and winner’s check of $3.6-million.

“Even two, three years ago when people didn’t know who I was, I felt like I could still compete against the best players in the world.”

World No 1 Scottie Scheffler was third at seven under while overnight co-leader Rickie Fowler faded early and had to settle for a share of fifth.

The 29-year-old Clark, who notched his first PGA Tour victory last month at Quail Hollow, said he drew inspiration from his late mother.

Wyndham Clark reacts to his winning putt on the 18th green during the final round of the US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club. (Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

“I felt like my mom was watching over me today,” said Clark, who considered quitting golf a decade ago after his mother died of breast cancer.

“She was so positive and such a motivator in what she did. She’d be crying tears of joy.

“She called me ‘Winner’ when I was little. She would just say, ‘I love you, Winner’.  She had the mantra of ‘play big’.”

Clark had to “play big” to get out of trouble around the turn and looked to be in total control when a birdie on 14 pushed his lead to three shots with four holes to play.

But the drama ramped up with a bogey on the short par-three 15th and again when his advantage shrank to a single stroke after his par putt lipped out on 16.

I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.

Despite the pressure, Clark would not crack, holding his nerve to make par on the two long closing holes, while McIlroy failed to sink a 12m birdie putt on 18 that would have moved him into a tie for first.

“I hit some great shots coming down at the end, and although I made a couple bogeys and it seemed like maybe the rails were coming off, I was inside pretty calm,” said Clark.

Fan favourite

The talk of the tournament all week had been the resurgence of Fowler, the fan favourite who led or shared the lead at the end of the first three rounds.

But he struggled from the outset on Sunday, bogeying three of his first seven holes to take the pressure off Clark and McIlroy and signed for a closing-round 75.

“I just didn’t have it today,” he told reporters.

It has been a long road back for the Southern California native, a former top-10 golfer who dropped to a career-low 185th in the rankings last September.

The 34-year-old, who missed the last two iterations of the tournament, said he would take positives away from his first three rounds, which included an opening round of 62.

“You learn from all your experiences. Not the position I wanted to be in after today, but a lot of good coming from this week.”

Rory’s wait continues

McIlroy’s latest failed bid for one of golf’s biggest prizes will sting. The Northern Irishman has gone nine years without adding to his four major titles.

The world No 3 started well with a birdie on the first but could not get his speed right with the putter and finished with an even-par 70.

Rory McIlroy gets relief from an imbedded ball on the 14th green during the final round of the US Open. (Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

The 34-year-old is confident a fifth major title will come.

“When I do finally win this next major, it’s going to be really, really sweet,” he said.

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“I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”

He was ultimately undone by a putter that went cold and a misjudged wedge shot at the par-five 14th, where his third disappeared into the face of a fescue-guarded greenside bunker.

McIlroy called for a ruling and got a fortunate break as he was awarded a free drop, but was unable to save par.

“I feel like I didn’t time the shot perfectly. I hit it when the wind was at its strongest and the ball just got hit a lot by the wind, and obviously it came up short,” said McIlroy.

The pain continues: Rory McIlroy comes up just short of ending a nine-year winless drought in the majors at the 123rd US Open. (Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

“If I had it back, I think I had the right club and the right shot. I might have just had to wait an extra 15 or 20 seconds to let that little gust settle.”

While McIlroy’s hopes took a severe blow on that hole, he still had a chance to get into a playoff after Clark bogeyed the 15th and 16th holes, but the American sealed the title with a solid two-putt par from 18m at the last.

“You don’t want to wish bad on anyone, but you’re really hoping for a three-putt. You’re hoping to somehow get into a playoff to keep giving yourself a chance,” said McIlroy, whose sole birdie of the final round came on the first hole.

“You’re rooting for one guy, and that guy is yourself at that point. I guess you’re just hoping for the other guy to slip up or make a mistake or give you a glimmer of hope.”

Despite falling short, McIlroy took comfort in the fact that he executed his gameplan of hitting fairways and greens all week even though his speed control with the putter was off a touch over the final two rounds.

“Fine, fine margins at this level and at this tournament especially, but I fought to the very end. I obviously never give up,” said McIlroy, who will get his next shot at an elusive fifth major at the July 20-23 British Open in Hoylake. Reuters/DM

 

 

 

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