LOS ANGELES, CA – It wouldn’t be the U.S. Open if a puzzling stranger didn’t make a surprise appearance on the leaderboard sending everyone scrambling for their Player’s Guide.
Young, unknown Wyndham Clark opened 123rd U.S. Open with a 64 yesterday, but his brilliance was outshone by the record-shattering performances of Ricky Fowler and Xander Schauffele, whose 62s topped the leaderboard at Los Angeles Country Club. But now, after adding a 67 on Friday, Wyndham stands at 9-under just one shot off the lead held by Fowler and playing in the final group tomorrow over a North Course that has surrendered record low numbers.
Starting on the back nine, Clark birdied the short par-4 10th and the 623-yard par-5 14th. He added another birdie at the brutally long-540 yard, par-4 16th before trading a bogey at the fourth hole with a birdie at the par-5 eighth.
The putter has been the difference so far; Clark ranks second in putting this week. He took just 23 putts on Thursday. He also conjured some magical up-and-downs to keep the round going. At 14 his second shot was greenside on the par-5, but in deep, shaggy rough ringing a bunker. From a side hill stance, Clark pitched 90-degrees away from the flagstick, and using a backboard, sucked it back to 15 feet and drained the sharply curving putt for birdie.
“Yeah, that up-and-down obviously was very risky. If it comes up short, I for sure probably maybe bogey. And then if it comes out hot and long – I brought double bogey into play,” he explained. “I kind of manned up and hit the shot, and then obviously making that putt was huge.”
Then on 16 he drained a 50-fooot bomb across the green for another birdie.
“On 16 I was laughing with my caddie because I hit that putt like three or four times in practice different days, and then we had a putting game closest to this disc in practices with Luke List and a couple other players, Adam Schenk, and I misread it every single time. I kept playing like a foot out left and I'd miss it four feet left,” he began, grinning like a butcher’s dog.
16 played 555 yards and as a par-4. The par-5 eighth hole was only 523 yards. In fact, combining the distances of the last three holes today – 555, 526, and 490, all par-4s – they average 525 yards each.
“So as we were walking up, I go, at least we know this putt; it's a foot out left, right? My caddie laughs and he goes, ‘What do you see?’ I said, ‘I'm not reading this, you read it.’ He is like, you play roughly 16 inches out on the right, and then to make that putt was just funny because…I literally did nothing other than hit the putt because, I didn't know where it was going to go.”
Another reason for Clark’s success this week is his caddie, P.J. Fielding. He’s an old friend of Clark’s that he visits every time he’s in SoCal. Call him Clark’s Man in LA. They played a round earlier in the year that Clark said felt like two or even three due to all the local knowledge Fielding imparted to hm on every hole, especially putts.
Now in his fourth year on tour, Clark broke through with his first PGA Tour victory this season at the Wells Fargo, another course with a long difficult finish. A Denver, Colorado native, He starred at Oklahoma State before transferring to the University of Oregon for the 2015-16 season, where he won the Pacific-12 Conference title and was named Golfweek magazine's Player of the Year.
Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele are tied for third place at 8-under, two strokes behind Fowler. Rory posted a 67 to go with Thursday’s 65. Schauffele, who also shot 62 yesterday and was co-leader after round one shot even par 70. Harris English is alone in fifth at 7-under while Dustin Johnson and Min Woo Lee are tied for sixth at 6-under, four strokes back.
NEWS, NOTES, AND QUOTES
Fowler’s 10-under score ties the all-time opening 36-hole scoring record set by Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014, going 65-65, for a 130 aggregate and 10-under score-to-par. Fowler shot 62 in the opening round and 68 on Friday.