News & Opinion

2020 U.S. Open: Matthew Wolff makes Winged Foot look beatable

Matthew Wolff and caddie Nick Heinen after 3rd round of 2020 U.S. Open
Matthew Wolff and caddie Nick Heinen wrap up a 5-under day and the 54-hole lead in the 120th U.S. Open on Saturday at Winged Foot.

Despite missing nearly every fairway, 21-year-old Matthew Wolff shoots 5-under 65, matching the best round of the week, and enters the final round with a 2-stroke lead on Bryson DeChambeau

Well, so much for the gospel of the U.S. Open, which sermonizes that fairways, fairways and fairways are the straight and narrow way to golf heaven. Matthew Wolff doesn’t put much faith in such a doctrine. After 54 holes, Wolff has found another route to paradise: off the beaten path that, in the end, made Wolff look unbeatable.

Such is the mind of the very young in professional golf. Wolff hit only two of 14 fairways in the third round of the U.S. Open and slashed through the rough to torch Winged Foot for a 5-under 65 and a 5-under 205 total to take a two-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau going into today’s final round (scores / tee times).

Golf in the 21st century suits the 21-year-old Wolff just fine. Conventions and norms are cast aside. Old thinking is just that: old. The future is now, the present. While the talk around distance off the tee largely centers around DeChambeau, Wolff is only a fraction behind the longest driver on the PGA Tour.

And that doesn’t even take into account the other-worldly unorthodoxy of Wolff’s one-of-a-kind golf swing. From the twist-and-shout first move to the club pointed to the sky going back, Wolff owns his motion, and results are speaking for themselves.

Apparently, there is no substitute for speed and strength, of which Wolff has aplenty. Wolff’s 65 included 12 greens in regulation, which is a testament to his ability to hit the high, hard one that will hold Winged Foot’s elevated, undulated greens that became firmer by the hour on Saturday.

Wolff played the front nine in 5-under 30, and he made six birdies and only one bogey on the day. The scary part is that it could have been lower. He missed at least three makeable putts, two of them on the front nine. Otherwise, his score could have been downright obscene at a place that is as demoralizingly difficult as Winged Foot.

Just ask Justin Thomas, who had another horrible driving day but wasn’t very good out of the rough on his way to 76 and a 4-over total. Thomas led after the first round with 65, and he will need another one of those to have a chance on Sunday.

DeChambeau, who is 27, is the game’s other major disruptor and made no apologies about the way he’d attack the venerable A.W. Tillinghast masterpiece at Winged Foot. He said he would hit it as hard and as far as he could, and a number of people, including players and broadcasters, just laughed.

He shot even-par 70 in the third round, including a three-putt on the final hole, to finish 54 holes at 3-under 207 and will play in the final pairing with Wolff on Sunday. The two were paired together in the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on July 4 when Wolff held a three-shot lead. DeChambeau shot 65 to Wolff’s 71 to win by three.

So, who’s still laughing Sunday afternoon will depend largely on how the two leaders fare in the final-round crucible of what’s supposed to be the most difficult tournament to win in the world. Wolff and DeChambeau, as you might imagine, don’t quite hold to that notion.

“I think the past two majors I've played in, I've been right in contention,” said DeChambeau, who tied for fourth last month at the PGA, his lone top-10 in 15 major-championship starts. “It's definitely validating, albeit there's a lot more to go.”

Said Wolff: “I feel like I'm ready to win out here and win a major. I've already won a PGA Tour event [the 2019 3M Open, in only his third start as a professional], and I knew my game was in a really good spot. I've been feeling really good, really confident, and with my mindset right now, how I'm thinking about the game is really good.”

Despite Wolff’s head-shaking round, Winged Foot still provided a stern test for most of the rest of the field. Louis Oosthuizen shot 2-under 68 and is the only other player under par for the championship, at 1 under, and in third place.

Hideki Matsuyama (70), Xander Schauffele (70) and Harris English (72) are tied for fourth at even-par 210 but five shots behind Wolff. Rory McIlroy shot 68 on Saturday and is alone in seventh at 1 over and still thinks he’s not completely out of contention. “If I go out there tomorrow and shoot another 68, I won't be too far away,” he said.

But if you’re measuring self-belief, Wolff can give the likes of McIlroy a run for his money, no matter how many majors he’s won.

“I like to go out there and do what I feel comfortable with, rip dog and see how it goes from there,” said Wolff, who tied for fourth with DeChambeau and three others in his major-championship debut last month at the PGA, which was won by 23-year-old Collin Morikawa.

“I feel comfortable with every part of my game, so I don't like to shy away from things when I'm feeling confident, and I'm probably going to do the same tomorrow.”

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