He knows what to expect by looking ahead at a final round on a Los Angeles Country Club course getting tougher by the minute, and by looking behind at some of the players chasing them — Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Dustin Johnson.
“It would be nice for that one to go in,” Fowler said. “Really doesn’t matter — having the lead, being one back, two back — you’re going to have to play good golf tomorrow. Bummer to have that one slip away, but tomorrow is a whole new day.
“That’s kind of when the tournament really starts.”
Fowler brought the buzz to the U.S. Open with a 70-foot birdie putt only to lose the lead with a three-putt bogey on the 18th hole, which turned into a two-shot lead and a tie for the lead when Clark boldly took on a tight pin he could barely see for a closing birdie.
Clark’s birdie put him — and not McIlroy — in the final group. And he knew it.
“I wanted to be in the final group. Every shot matters out here,” Clark said.
For all the drama over the final hour — big putts, Scheffler’s eagle-birdie finish, Xander Schauffele going from a crash to a recovery to another crash — McIlroy played a steady hand with one birdie and one bogey over his final 14 holes.
He had a 69 that left him one shot behind, poised to end nine long years without a major.
“It’s nice to be in the hunt,” McIlroy said.
Fowler had to settle for an even-par 70. Clark escaped big trouble from the barranca right of the 17th green with a 6-foot bogey putt to stay close, and then boldly took on a tight left pin at the 18th for a 6-foot birdie and a 69.
They were at 10-under 200.
The final hour brought a surprise at every turn. A long day of blazing sunshine baking the North course at Los Angeles Country Club gave way to the infamous marine layer that brought out some sweatshirts late in the day.
Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world, never looked to be in the mix until he closed out his round of 68 by holing a 7-iron from 196 yards on the 17th hole and making a 20-foot birdie putt that put him in the penultimate group with McIlroy.
For so many others, it didn’t take much to lose ground.
Schauffele began his round by taking three shots to get out of a fairway bunker, making three bogeys in five holes, only to get it all back before losing ground at the end with a series of poor drives. He was at 73, five shots back.
Harris English kept pace with the leaders until he missed short putts, big drives and ended his day with a chip shot from the deep collar around the 18th green that didn’t move the ball. His fourth bogey of the back nine gave him a 71, leaving him four shots behind.
The final hour saved what had been a stale atmosphere among the glitz of LA, with just about everyone playing a part. The five players within five shots of the lead included three major champions who have been No. 1 in the world — McIlroy, Scheffler and Johnson (71).
This is the third time Fowler has been in the final group at a major. This is only the third time Clark has played in the final round of a major. He showed plenty of mettle, following consecutive bogeys with a birdie on the 13th — right after Fowler wowed the gallery with his 70-footer — and smartly took a penalty drop on the 17th before a closing bogey.
There was a lot going on at the end.
“I felt like I handled all of it really well,” Clark said. “I felt like I handled all the adversity, and I feel like my best round is still out there.”
McIlroy had a chance to end his major drought last summer at St. Andrews when he shared the lead going into the final round at St. Andrews, only for Cameron Smith to blow past him. He has been in position twice in the last two weeks, at the Memorial and Canadian Open, only to turn in a dud of a final round.
The stakes are enormous this time, on this stage. And he has the experience, though he wasn’t sure to make of that.
“It’s been such a long time since I’ve done it,” said McIlroy, whose last major was at the PGA Championship in 2014. “I’m going out there to try to execute a game plan, and I feel like over the last three days I’ve executed that game plan really, really well. And I just need to do that for one more day.”
Scheffler is suddenly in the mix, all because of one remarkable shot and one big putt. He has been the model of consistency this year, even in the majors — a tie for 10th at the Masters, a runner-up finish in the PGA Championship.
“I’m standing there on 17 tee and just made another bogey, and I think I was probably 4 under for the tournament and I’m looking up at the board and I’m seven shots back and I’m thinking maybe I can steal one shot coming in,” Scheffler said.
He stole three and now is well within range.
The marine layer blocking the sun had kept LACC’s greens receptive and scoring ridiculous, at least by U.S. Open standards. The sunshine made it a stronger test, and perhaps offered a preview of what’s to come.
The scores don’t indicate this is the toughest test in golf. It’s likely to feel like way for the players chasing the silver trophy — Fowler and Clark going for their first, McIlroy hopeful of a win that will take attention away from what has been keeping him from another.
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Published: 2023-06-18 04:17:48