2023 U.S. Open leaderboard: Wyndham Clark breaks through edging Rory McIlroy for first major championship

With Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler atop the 2023 U.S. Open leaderboard, it appeared as if Los Angeles Country Club was set to crown a shining star as its national champion. Instead, the City of Angels saw a breakout performance from perhaps one of the game’s rising stars as 29-year-old Wyndham Clark (-10) outlasted the veteran McIlroy (-9) to capture his first major championship and clinch his second professional victory.

Clark, whose only other PGA Tour win came last month at the Wells Fargo Championship, had not finished better than T75 at six major appearances since 2020; in four of those six majors, he did not even make it to the weekend.

This week in L.A., though? He was phenomenal. Clark posted one of the low scores of the tournament with a 64 in Round 1 and entered the final day as co-leader alongside Rickie Fowler. Their 54-hole score of 200 was the second-lowest in U.S. Open history behind McIlroy’s 199 at the 2011 event he won.

Clark immediately seized control of the championship with an opening birdie in the final round. A sense of comfort appeared to wash over him as quality shot after quality shot ricocheted off the center of his club face.

With McIlroy remaining steady in the group ahead and playing partner Fowler falling off pace, Clark built his lead with birdies on the difficult par-3 4th and drivable par-4 6th. While the par-breakers provided relief and extended Clark’s lead to two, it was a bogey save on the par-5 8th that set off a chain of big-time shots required to be hit by major champions.

Dropping a stroke on the easiest hole on the course when a double bogey felt certain, Clark and his scrambling ability began to shine through. A near-impossible up and down on the par-3 9th was followed with another two holes later on the downhill 11th.

“U.S. Opens are tough, and unfortunately, I had a bad lie at 8,” Clark said. “Honestly, that up and down for bogey was probably the key of the tournament, kept me in it, and then the up and down on 9 was huge.”

McIlroy continued to pepper fairways and greens applying as much pressure as possible from tee to green, but his inability to cash in with the putter was once again his downfall. The four-time major champion hit 59 greens in total on the week, the highest amount by a non-winner in U.S. Open history.

“It was hard to get the ball really close all day,” McIlroy said. “It was [the putter] and just that wedge shot on 14 coming up a little bit. short. Those are the couple things I’ll rue today. I hung in there. I fought right to the end. Didn’t quite get the job done, but as I said [Saturday], I’m going to keep coming back until I get another one.”

Ultimately, it was that missed green on the par-5 14th that proved the costliest for McIlroy. Facing one of the rare scoring opportunities on the difficult back side of LACC, Rory flared his wedge short of the putting surface. Unable to salvage par, the 34-year-old dropped to 9 under as Clark looked on from the middle of the fairway.

Clark saw his opening, threw one hand on the trophy and secured it out of McIlroy’s fleeting grasp. From 281 yards, Clark sizzled a fairway wood through the mouth of the green as McIlroy stood nearby on from the 15th tee. Settling just 20 feet away from the pin, Clark’s two-putt birdie ultimately gave him enough breathing room for a sweaty four-hole stretch to close.

“It’s tough, on the back nine, trying to win a tournament,” said Clark. “I felt at ease and I just kept saying, ‘Alright, I can do this. I can do this.’ The shot on 14 was kind of the shot of the week for me — to make a birdie there and grind it on the way in.”

Bogeys followed Clark’s heroics on the 14th as he became the only man all day to drop a shot on the short par-3 15th. His lead was trimmed to two, and another bogey on the 16th left his margin at one. He continued to fight his golf swing, but as he did throughout the day, he summoned a clutch short game when called upon. Clark hit a nifty spinner from left of the green on the 71st to tap-in distance.

A hit fairway and a green in regulation on the 18th (his first since the 14th) left Clark a stroll to remember up the 72nd hole. When he successfully two-putted from 60 feet, Clark looked up to the sky, hugged his caddie and buried his face into his cap knowing he had just joined golf’s most elite company in the city where stars are born.

Rick Gehman, Greg DuCharme, Kyle Porter and Patrick McDonald break down a tough test as Wyndham Clark claimed the U.S. Open on Sunday. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Let’s take a look at the rest of the  leaderboard from the 2023 U.S. Open. Check out our full breakdown of the 2023 U.S. Open purse and prize money allotments.

2. Rory McIlroy (-9): Rory had the golf ball on a string from tee to green, but like The Open at St. Andrews last year, he just could not get enough putts to fall. After making birdie on No. 1 to momentarily pull even with the leaders, McIlroy was unable to take advantage of the short par-4 6th before leaving one on the table on the par-5 8th when his birdie putt from less than four feet failed to even touch the hole.

He continued to apply pressure on Clark with a heavy diet of fairways and greens, but McIlroy and his inability to hole putts made the margin thinner than usual. He ranked 58th out of 65 players in strokes gained putting Sunday. This became apparent when he made his lone bogey of the round on 14 and dropped three off Clark. It was ultimately one too many to overcome as McIlroy finished on the podium for the third time in his last seven majors. He now has 19 top-10 finishes since his last major championship nine years ago.

“When I do finally win this next major, it’s going to be really, really sweet,” said McIlroy. “I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”

3. Scottie Scheffler (-7): The world No. 1 was in the mix in a major championship late into Sunday yet again. Similar to Saturday, Scheffler endured a stop-and-go round with three birdies offset by three bogeys. He continues his rapid streak of top-12 finishes with 17 in a row and now has top-10 finishes in all three majors with the last two resulting in podium finishes. “I just felt like I wasn’t sharp enough today to move up the board,” said Scheffler. “I did a good job of keeping myself in it but I just wasn’t sharp enough.”

4. Cameron Smith (-6): He kind of snuck his way up the leaderboard and flashed the type of form that resulted in a career season in 2022. After a slow start to his year, he now has six straight top-10 finishes including a T9 at the PGA Championships and a solo fourth at the U.S. Open. The Champion Golfer of the Year now goes to defend the Claret Jug at Hoylake where he will relish the opportunity to put his creativity and imagination on display again.

T5. Rickie Fowler, Min Woo Lee, Tommy Fleetwood (-5): This one will hurt for Fowler as it marked his best opportunity to date to win a major championship. He opened the floodgates with a record-setting amount of birdies, but the mistakes ultimately proved to too much. The poor finish on Saturday seeped into Sunday and a round of 75 was the result. Fowler’s resurgence remains real, and this run at contention may very well propel Fowler, 34, into a strong second stage of his career. “I was just really excited on how I felt this week, how comfortable I felt to go out and back up my first round and continue to play well,” Fowler said. “I enjoyed it. 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.”

T8. Tom Kim, Harris English (-4): Kim shot the round of the day with a 66 on Saturday, and he was one of just 16 golfers to shoot under par Sunday. If not for opening with a 3-over 73, he may have been able to make a play for this tournament.

T10. Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Austin Eckroat (-3): Another major goes by with Schauffele unable to seal the deal. The world No. 6 fired out the gates with a record 62 alongside Fowler but slowly drifted down the leaderboard as the week progressed. He shot 5 over across the two weekend rounds. Schauffele now has top-15 finishes in all seven of his U.S. Open appearances and six straight top 20s in major championships.

SOURCE: [CBSSports.com]