2023 U.S. Open leaderboard: Rickie Fowler, Wyndham Clark co-lead as Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler chase
Fowler has his first 54-hole lead at a major championship but fell short of holding it by himself
History suggests just five men have a chance to win the 2023 U.S. Open after an up-and-down Moving Day at Los Angeles Country Club. Rickie Fowler and Wyndham Clark will head into Sunday's deciding round atop the leaderboard at 10 under set to run back Saturday's pairing that produced plenty of fireworks.
Clark made the first move as the Wells Fargo Championship winner produced two early birdies. While Clark surged, Fowler shriveled with a pair of bogeys that saw them swap spots on the leaderboard. Fowler countered with long-distance birdie efforts on the par-3 7th and another from 69 feet on the 13th to regain the lead.
Back and forth they went on the difficult back nine with Fowler leaving his fair share of opportunities to extend his margin on the golf course thanks to short misses on the 14th and 18th. When the dust settled, the two were tied, but they will have two large figures directly in front of them on the course.
Rory McIlroy signed for a 1-under 69 and appeared to have a spot reserved in the final tee time before Clark birdied his last. Instead, McIlroy has a date with the world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler ,who finished eagle-birdie to come in at 7 under and just three back. When Scheffler stood on the 17th tee, he was seven strokes back, but his strong finish combined with some missteps from Fowler and Clark have given the world No. 1 oxygen with 18 to go.
2023 U.S. Open leaderboard, Round 3
T1. Rickie Fowler, Wyndham Clark (-10): They both hit lulls in their rounds, and they both battled back like champions. Fowler's struggles came early, and unlike the first two days, the five-time winner on the PGA Tour was able to string some pars together to keep his head above water. He entered the final hole with a two-stroke lead and walked off the green all squared when his short par putt power lipped out after Clark stuffed his approach.
Clark continued to show guts in his first run at contention in a major championship. Bogeys on Nos. 11-12 were followed with a birdie on 13. His second shot into 17 found the penalty area and gave flashbacks to Corey Conners in the third round of the PGA Championship on No. 16, but unlike Conners, Clark was able to salvage a bogey and maintain touching distance. He bounced back again when his second into the 18th settled 6 feet away -- the second-closest approach of the day -- and set up just the fifth birdie on the hole in Round 3.
3. Rory McIlroy (-9): The masses wanted a Fowler, McIlroy final pairing, but the penultimate group may serve the four-time major champion well. While he has won each of his four majors from pole position, McIlroy being in lockstep with the best player in the world (Scheffler) for 18 holes may produce the same type of play his pairing with Brooks Koepka did the first two days. The 34-year-old touched the lead with two birdies in his first three holes, but he made his first poor swing of the day on the par-3 4th resulting in bogey. McIlroy didn't play the front nine in 30 like the last two days, but perhaps more importantl,y he played the back nine in even par to shoot a 69 that could bode well for him Sunday.
"It's been such a long time since I've [won a major]," said McIlroy, who is 3-0 in majors when shooting 67 or lower in his first two rounds (as he did this week). "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."
4. Scottie Scheffler (-7): Scheffler's sneak attack on the field turned into an onslaught when he announced his presence on the first page of the leaderboard with an eagle-birdie finish. He got himself inside the coveted four-stroke margin mentioned above and somehow signed for the low round of the afternoon with a 68. The world No. 1's consistency continues to amaze even as equipment changes seep into his bag. Not only did Scheffler replace his driver last night when the face caved in, he also admitted he switched putters to a slightly different model at the onset of the week. Sunday, he will go for his third big win -- including the Players -- in the last eight.
"I was fighting all day today, trying to just get myself back in position, starting the day six or seven shots back or whatever it was," said Scheffler. "Just trying to make some birdies and avoid the bogeys. I didn't do a great job of that for most of the day, but I grinded it out pretty hard. I felt like today was one of the days where I got punished for my mistakes, whereas yesterday I felt like I wasn't getting punished at all. I was hitting it all over the map and getting some decent lies and figuring it out from there, and today it seemed like every time I got offline, I was really fighting for par."
5. Harris English (-6): He was locked in early with three birdies in his first six holes and looked to be the man to threaten the final pair. A birdie on No. 10 got him to 10 under before a short miss on the difficult 11th spent him in downward spiral. English did well to only card bogeys on 11 and 18, but he will be kicking himself for dropping a shot on the lone par 5 on the back nine.
T6. Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele (-5): Schauffele's round felt like it could have been an 80 or a 70, but he settled with 73. He got off to a nightmare start leaving two shots in the fairway bunker on the accessible opener before dropping two more shots by the time he reached the 6th tee. Four holes later, he had clawed his way back to even par and 8 under for the tournament. Like nearly everyone this week, Schauffele was a victim of the back nine with three late bogeys. "Hit one fairway with my driver, so it was a bit of a grind to say the least," he said. "All things considered, I could have let it get away from me even more, so I guess it could have been worse, looking on the bright side."
T9. Tom Kim (-3): The 20-year-old employed the same strategy of many before him. Carding six birdies against zero bogeys on the susceptible front side, Kim turned in 29 and became the fifth man to break 30 on a single nine in U.S. Open history. He tacked on another birdie on the 10th to reach 6 under for the championship, but the brutal finishing stretch at LACC had the last word and caused him to drop three shots coming in. "To be honest, that back nine is really hard," Kim said. "You just don't really have any bailouts. Those three bogeys really don't feel like bogeys because I barely missed it by a yard or two. But major championship golf, U.S. Open really brings it out of you. Would have been nice to kind of par in and see that bogey-free or see one or two more birdies, but if you told me at the start of the day, I'd take that score."
Fowler's pace a smidge aggressive late
A miss birdie bid from close range on 14 and another on 16 have seen Fowler's putts run well by. He remains at 11 under with two holes remaining and one clear of Wyndham Clark who continues to strike the crap out of the golf ball. Rory McIlroy is currently slated to be in the penultimate group with Scottie Scheffler unless he can pull even with Clark, then McIlroy would get the final group (most likely).
Scottie goes 2-3 to end
That's what the best player in the world does. Scottie Scheffler goes eagle-birdie and finishes at 7 under. He is only four off the lead, and that could be better as Rickie Fowler goes through the brutal final three holes. He is the first player in at 7 under which means he will go out the latest if anyone else is to tie him. He's at worst going to be in the penultimate group.
Wow, wow, wow, that was needed. Scottie Scheffer holes out for eagle on 17 to get to 6 under and only five off Fowler. That was huge as he has one hole left and was in need of something. He was at risk of being out of this thing, but he has a pulse (again).