By Helen Ross
Wyndham Clark had never made the cut in a U.S. Open, much less contended for a major championship. In fact, his best finish in six previous major appearances was a distant tie for 76th at the 2020 Open Championship.
But there’s a first time for everything, and Clark, just six weeks removed from picking up his first PGA TOUR victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, was ready when his time came.
He opened with a 64, took a share of the lead into Sunday’s final round and edged Rory McIlroy by one to earn 600 FedExCup points and vault to No. 4 in the season-long rankings.
Clark finished with a 10-under total and was never outside the top 3 at the end of any round at Los Angeles Country Club. His mental toughness was as much a factor as the precise shots he hit, particularly over the challenging final three holes.
The Denver native was one of just four players to play Nos. 16-18 under par for the week. He made 109 feet, 11 inches of putts on those greens and gained +3.18 strokes on the field – both numbers that ranked No. 1 among the field.
One of those putts was a virtual tap-in for par after Clark missed the green at the 17th on Sunday and hit a brilliant pitch to a foot. Not bad for a guy who ranked 52nd in scrambling entering the week – and much needed because the three-stroke lead he held after a birdie at the par-5 14th had dwindled to just one after bogeys on Nos. 15-16.
After the clutch par save, it didn’t get any easier on the 72nd hole, either. Clark’s approach found the green, but he had to two-putt from 60 feet to preserve the victory with McIlroy watching in the scoring area hoping for a playoff.
As clutch as Clark was down the stretch, the 29-year-old also got each round off to a stellar start. He eagled No. 1 on Thursday, birdied No. 10 on Friday and added birdies at the first hole in each of the final two rounds. That 5-under total tied Jon Rahm for the lowest opening hole performance since 2003.
Hovland triumphs at Jack’s place
Viktor Hovland had three PGA TOUR victories, but he had yet to win one in the United States. The Norwegian picked a pretty big stage for his American breakthrough when he beat Denny McCarthy in a playoff at Muirfield Village to win the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, a tournament hosted by legend Jack Nicklaus.
The 25-year-old, who now has won a TOUR event each of the last four years, needed a 28-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, bookended by two par saves, to force extra holes. Hovland played the final three holes in 2 under for the week, which was tops in the field, and gained 2.45 strokes on the field on that stretch during the final round alone.
He ranked first in Strokes Gained: Total (+6.40) and SG: Tee-to-Green (+4.33) while finishing fifth in SG: Putting over that stretch, picking up 2.06 shots on the field.
McCarthy’s nemesis was the 18th hole, which produced his only bogey in regulation on a difficult Sunday, as well as another during the playoff. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler closed with a 67, which was the low round of the day and one of just 10 subpar scores shot on the exceedingly firm and fast layout. He was his usual razor-sharp self from tee to green, leading the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, Tee to Green, Approach the Green and Around the Green.
However, the Texan, who posted his TOUR-leading 12th top-10 of the season, continued to struggle with the flat stick, finishing last among the 65 players who completed 72 holes in Strokes Gained: Putting. Even so, his Strokes Gained: Tee to Green total of +20.692 was the second-best in a 72-hole tournament in the ShotLink era, trailing only Vijay Singh at the 2004 Deutsche Bank Championship (+21.140)
Taylor delivers in front of home fans
There were two winners at the RBC Canadian Open – Nick Taylor, who rolled in a 72-foot eagle putt on the fourth playoff hole to beat Tommy Fleetwood, and his Canadian countrymen who had been waiting 48 years for a home victory … and celebrated accordingly.
Without a dramatic turnaround, though, Taylor wouldn’t have been standing in the middle of that raucous celebration on the 18th green at Oakdale Country Club. He opened with a 75 and stood 120th after the first round but he played his final 54 holes in 20 under to earn his third TOUR win.
Only Ian Poulter at the 2018 Houston Open had a bigger climb to victory (he stood 123rd). Counting Poulter and Taylor that includes 21,728 players in 72-hole events. Taylor, who closed with a 66, ended up gaining 10.29 strokes on the field tee-to-green, which was the highest total in his TOUR career. His 26 birdies were a career high, by four, as well.
Bradley realizes childhood dreams
Just when you thought it couldn’t get better than Vermont’s Keegan Bradley winning New England’s only PGA TOUR event, a tournament he attended as a kid, it did. The folks at the Travelers Championship were ready with trophies for his two young sons, as well.
Bradley served notice it was going to be his week when he made birdie on his first five holes on Thursday. He only made one bogey in the first round, then reeled off a stretch of 52 holes without dropping a shot in sprinting to a tournament-record 23 under at TPC River Highlands.
The sixth multiple winner this season, Bradley finished with 27 total birdies, which tied for the most at the Travelers Championship since 1983. He was particularly proficient on the par 4s, which he played in 16 under and picked up 12.22 Strokes Gaines: Total on the field.
Bradley used the increasingly popular AimPoint technique to read River Highland’s bent grass greens to great success. He made a total of 419 feet, 6 inches of putts, which was the third best total of his career, and didn’t miss of putt inside 7 feet in 52 attempts that week.