First Collin Morikawa.
Now Matthew Wolff?
Wolff, 21 years old and a year removed from his sophomore year playing college golf, nearly won the PGA Championship last month with a dramatic Sunday charge that electrified Harding Park in San Francisco.
That charge fell short when Morikawa, his contemporary who’s also a year out of college, seized the moment on his final few holes and hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy while Wolff finished tied for fourth.
As the U.S. Open enters its final round Sunday at Winged Foot, the championship is Wolff’s to win or lose. He seized a two-shot lead by shooting a 5-under 65 in Saturday’s third round to get to 5-under for the tournament.
Bryson DeChambeau, playing alongside 36-hole leader Patrick Reed in the final group, is 3-under after shooting 70 and trails Wolff by two shots. Louis Oosthuizen, the only other player in the field who’s under par, is 1-under and four shots back after shooting 68.
Reed, who began the day at 4-under with a one-shot lead over DeChambeau, opened up a three-shot lead after the second hole, which he birdied. But he struggled mightily from there and finished with a 7-over 77 to stand at 3-over, eight shots behind Wolff.
Xander Schauffele (70), Hideki Matsuyama (70) and Harris English (72) are even par and five shots back.
Rory McIlroy, who shot 68, is 1-over and six back. Reed, Zach Johnson, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Viktor Hovland are all within striking distance at 2-over.
With Reed and DeChambeau struggling, Wolff leapfrogged them, taking control of the day and the tournament with a blistering 30 on the front nine with five birdies and nary a blemish on his card.
“Everyone knows how talented Matt is,’’ McIlroy said. “He played great at Harding Park in the last major. He’s explosive like that. I certainly didn’t see [anyone] shooting 30 on any nine today. Geez, I think anything under par on this golf course today is a really good score.’’
It was a stunning performance for Wolff, the former Oklahoma State star who’s playing in only his second career major championship, first U.S. Open and 29th professional event. He won his third PGA Tour start last year when he captured the 3M Championship.
He went against every conventional method to succeed at Winged Foot by hitting only 2-of-14 fairways.
Wolff was the recipient of some serious rub-of-the-green fortune on No. 18, where he hit iron off the tee and got a great break when his ball somehow bounced from the 5-inch rough into to the first cut, which is much more manageable at about an inch high.
From there, he lasered his 7-iron approach shot onto the green and made the putt for an exclamation-point birdie to close the day and stretch his lead to three at the time.
“I felt really good with all parts of my game, and I’m just excited to be where I’m at and look forward to [Sunday],’’ Wolff said. “The biggest thing is not really looking ahead. It’s golf; anything can happen, especially at a course like this. I know if I keep calm and not let my emotions get the best of me, I should have a really good chance.
“I feel like I’m ready to win out here and win a major. I’ve already won a PGA Tour event 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.
“It is a major. It’s really important, and yes, it is really early in my career, but I feel like I have the game to win. Collin won at 23, I’m 21, and I’m not saying that it’s going to happen, but I mean, I put myself in a really good spot, and obviously I’m feeling really good with my game, so I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing and whatever happens happens.’’
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