There are only four Sundays a year. That has to be a maddening truth for the highest level tour pro who has spent his whole life working on a game that he does better than 99.9 percent of other humans. The world’s best golfers get approximately 80 hours of major championship golf in a single year, and only four major Sundays to actually win a trophy. It’s an incredible weight… for them; for us, it’s nothing but energy and bliss and all we want from a devotion to this sport.
This major championship Sunday will bring an even greater weight for a couple names at the top of the leaderboard. There’s Rickie Fowler, the phenom prospect and brand darling who turned pro 14 years ago but has yet to win a major. A win on Sunday would define his career. There’s Rory McIlroy, sitting on a nine-year major drought after so much instant success and Tiger heir-apparent declarations. After the numerous chances in that nine-year span, he knows better than anyone how the promise of a major Sunday can quickly turn to pain. The drought, his already historic place in the game, and his past year, add to the weight of this four-hour chance.
Both Rickie and Rory seem to have a great sense of perspective. They have lives outside of the game. But still. The scarcity of these opportunities may not be fair to talents like this whose career and life-pursuits are often framed based on what happens in those few hours on four Sundays a year. But when marquee talents with a lot at stake are fighting for a title, it adds to the promise of the event on the whole, for both of them, and us. What a thrill it is that, tomorrow, we’ll get the opportunity to watch them try to seize one of those so-rare days.
The other contenders and pretenders
By Will Knights
Wyndham Clark – It hasn’t always been pretty, but Wyndham Clark has found a way to stay within striking distance heading into the final round of the 2023 U.S. Open. Clark ranks 53rd out of 65 players in Strokes Gained: Approach this week, but has gained so many shots with the driver and putter that his poor iron play, a skill he’s improved dramatically in 2023, hasn’t hurt him too badly. But as it has been the rest of the week, Wyndham’s driver will decide his chances at the title. He’s had a couple lucky lies after hitting wayward drives that could have easily sent him down the leaderboard. But he made the most of his good breaks and gutted out three rounds, flagged a final approach on Saturday to get into the final group, and now finds himself in new territory. His six previous major championship appearances have resulted in four missed cuts, a T-75, and a T-76. On Sunday, he could be a U.S. Open champion.
Scottie Scheffler – Unsurprisingly, the best tee-to-green player in the world leads the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green at LACC. Scheffler’s Saturday was largely frustrating until he was buoyed by a hole-out eagle on No. 17 that put him into the top five. And on the home hole, Scheffler rolled in another birdie to get himself within three shots of the lead and in the penultimate pairing. He was seven shots off the lead before hitting his approach into the 17th, and yet, the fact that Scheffler somehow finds himself in contention makes all the sense in the world. He has eight top-10 finishes in his last 12 major championship starts, including three top-2 finishes in his last six. If his putter cooperates on Sunday, Scottie has the firepower required to catch the leaders in a hurry.
Xander Schauffele – It pains me to say this, but Xander Schauffele is not going to win the U.S. Open. A first-round 62 saw a Schauffele swing that knew no wrong. It was perfect. But ever since the early holes on Friday afternoon, Xander has largely been lost at sea. His Saturday was filled with loose shots and a lack of execution, a far cry from the machine-like form we saw on Thursday morning. Xander’s in great shape for his sixth top-10 finish in seven U.S. Open appearances, but he pulled one over on me this week and I apologize for all those I misled.
Harris English – Firmly in contention after starting his third round -3 through 10 holes, English fell victim to LACC’s difficult back nine and now finds himself four back with 18 holes to play. His inclusion in this section is just a show of respect to his first 54 holes. He’s just one shot behind Scheffler, but unless Harris finds another gear on Sunday, he will not be a factor.
Dustin Johnson – One of the more surprising flat rounds that we saw on Saturday came from 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson. Just four shots off the pace to start the day, DJ failed to take advantage of the easier front nine and ground through the difficult back to the tune of a third-round 71. This will be the 11th straight major (going back to his 2020 Masters win) in which DJ will not be a factor on Sunday. How different things could have been if Johnson hadn’t quadrupled the second hole on Friday.
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