20 Sep 2020 | Professional golf |

Wolff leads US Open pack

by Martin Blake

Matthew Wolff image
Matthew Wolff tries to ride home a birdie putt at 15 on his way to the US Open lead. Photo: Getty

Matthew Wolff leapt out of the pack with his idiosyncratic ways and his youthful exuberance, and the 21-year-old will take the lead into the final round of the US Open.

Californian Wolff is playing just his second major and only turned professional last year. But he played magnificent golf at Winged Foot today, shooting the equal-low round of the week, a 65, and finishing with a birdie at the 18th after a superb seven iron shot in close.

His lead is two from another American, Bryson DeChambeau, and their pairing tomorrow will be living testament to the notion that you don’t have to follow standard patterns in golf.

Wolff has a golf swing that is utterly unique. It includes a hitchkick starter move with his left leg that comes from his days as a baseballer, and the shaft goes so vertical at the top that he has to drop it at least as far as Jim Furyk to get it back on plane.

He chose his current coach, the equally left-field George Gankas, because he wanted to be instructed by someone who would not want to change his motion.

But if you ignore the quirky backswing, he gets through the ball beautifully, and it’s not unthinkable to see him here. He made five birdies on the front nine and his only bogey of the day was at the 16th where he drove into the left tree line and had to chip out.

He is the world No. 36, he won a US Tour event in Minnesota last year (holing an eight-metre eagle putt to clinch it) and he was a national collegiate champion when he was at Rickie Fowler’s Oklahoma State.

We’d all best get to know him. He is an extraordinary talent. He hit just two fairways today – not exactly the recipe for success at Winged Foot – but his scrambling was remarkable. In fact, he has hit only 12 fairways for the week which shows how good he is at the art of getting the ball in the hole.

“Everything,” he said afterward, when he was asked what had come together for him today. “I think my putting was by far the best it's felt in the last two or three months. I feel like I'm really hitting the ball well. My irons were really good, and even though I only hit two fairways, my driver was -- it was just barely off, but that's the US Open.

“I feel like even though I missed the fairway, there was a lot of times I was in that graduated rough that's a little shorter, and I feel like yesterday the difference was I was in the really long stuff. Like I said, 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 tomorrow.”

Wolff has a bunch of big names in his wake should the nerves jangle tomorrow. South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen is at one-under, while Presidents Cuppers Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama along with Harris English are at even-par, while world No. 2 Rory McIlroy is at one-over having loomed up.

All of them will feel they have a chance, although sadly, none of the Australians is in range in what’s been a quiet week for them. Adam Scott, at nine-over, is the closest.

There was plenty of carnage on day three at Winged Foot, with the greens running at 13 on the stimpmeter when play began and firming up across the day. There were six players under par when they started; by day’s end, there were just three.

Kiwi Danny Lee six-putted the 18th hole for a nine, and promptly withdrew from the tournament citing a wrist injury. Lee had a putt for a par from just outside a metre; by the time he knocked in his last putt for a nine, it came from outside two metres.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed was five-under par overall and leading through nine holes but he imploded with a back nine of 43, and his 77 put him out of the mix. Reed’s issues began when he putted his ball off the green on the par-three 10th, one of six bogeys (and a double) on the back nine.

DeChambeau was shaky early but strong late before he slipped up with a bogey at the last, where the pin was cut in a dreadfully tricky spot and he missed a short par putt. Like Wolff, he is chasing his first major.

"I think the past two majors I've played in I've been right in contention," he said. "It's definitely validating, albeit there's a lot more to go. I've got to figure out a lot more. I am excited to be in this position for sure. There's no better place to be."

Clearly it is Matthew Wolff’s to win or lose. He has felt the heat before, winning last year and taking the 54-hole lead in Detroit in July before being reeled in … by DeChambeau.

Wolff wouldn’t be the youngest US Open winner; John McDermott did it at just 19 in 1911, and Jordan Spieth won at 21 as recently as 2015. But it would be quite something.

“I think that's the biggest thing, is not really looking ahead,’’ he said. “I was kind of antsy at the beginning of the round in Detroit, the fourth round, and I think I'm going to go out there and just do my thing.

“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.”

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