McIlroy comes up shy again as Clark chisels out maiden US Open win

Ronan MacNamara

Wyndham Clark kisses the trophy after his victory at the 2023 U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif. on Sunday, June 18, 2023. (Chris Keane/USGA)

Rory McIlroy at St Andrews, the sequel. Only this time there was no Cameron Smith to saunter in and steal his thunder. The nine-year major drought continues for McIlroy who couldn’t do enough to dislodge Wyndham Clark who held off the Hollywood stars to claim his maiden US Open Championship at LA Country Club.

US Open Sunday took place on Father’s Day but this was about a Mother who passed away while Clark was in college.

It was a case of deja vu for McIlroy who closed with a level-par 70 as the putter turned stone cold just as it did at the 150th Open Championship. This was more frustrating as despite a late Clark wobble, McIlroy never gave himself a realistic birdie opportunity over the closing stretch to apply the pressure.


While waiting for a fifth major title to fall into his lap Clark remained battle hardened and after dropped shots on 15 and 16 he held his nerve to par the 17th after missing the green left before a classy two putt on the 72nd hole saw him deservedly strike gold.

McIlroy’s nine-under total claimed him second place, one shot behind Clark who also closed with a 70 of his own while Scottie Scheffler took third on seven-under and Smith fourth on six-under to round off the top-4. Shane Lowry settled for a T20 on one-over after a 71 while Pádraig Harrington was a shot further back in 27th.

“The golf course was playing really tricky, and obviously the scores in the final few groups reflected that. I mean, I didn’t feel — there was a couple of things that I probably would have done differently, but all in all, I played a solid round of golf,” said the world number three.

“And I’m getting closer. The more I keep putting myself in these positions, sooner or later it’s going to happen for me. Just got to regroup and get focused for Hoylake in a few weeks’ time.”

The turning point came on the par-5 14th. McIlroy pulled his driver left forcing a lay up to 125 yards. The 34-year-old’s approach to the green stalled in the air and came up short, under the lip of the front bunker. A questionable free drop for a plugged ball looked to have given him a reprieve but he was unable to get up and down to save his par.

Clark, watching on from the 14th fairway, hit a Hollywood shot to 20-feet to leave the easiest of two putts for birdie to all of a sudden stretch his lead from one shot to three.

“That one wedge shot on 14, missed birdie putt on 8, really apart from that, I did everything else the way I wanted to. Yeah, fine, fine margins at this level and at this tournament especially, but I fought to the very end. I obviously never give up,” McIlroy explained afterwards.

“Yeah, as I was walking up to it, it felt like it was a perfect full sand wedge. Hit it hard, get some spin on it. Then while we were getting prepared for the shot, the wind started to freshen a little bit. Full sand wedge wasn’t getting there, so I said to Harry, three-quarter gap wedge would be perfect.

“I feel like I didn’t time the shot perfectly. I hit it when the wind was at its strongest and the ball just got hit a lot by the wind, and obviously it came up short. If I had it back, I think I had the right club and the right shot. I might have just had to wait an extra 15 or 20 seconds to let that little gust settle.”

It had been relatively plain sailing for the world number 32 who opened with a birdie before dropping one on the second. Birdies on four and six saw him edge in front before he avoided a disaster on the par-5 8th to save a six after whiffing his third shot from the green side rough.

There were brilliant par saves on 9 and 11 to keep his nose in front of McIlroy who was stalling having two-putted for birdie on the 1st but a cold putter saw him shave more edges than a Gillette razor.

McIlroy missed a tiddler on the 8th before going close on several other occasions and that rather summed up his day as the longest putt he made was just over four feet with a combined footage of putts held ranging under 70 feet over the weekend.

“The last real two chances I’ve had at majors I feel like have been pretty similar performances, like St Andrews last year and then here. Not doing a lot wrong, but I didn’t make a birdie since the first hole today. Just trying to be a little more, I guess, efficient with my opportunities and my looks.

“When I do finally win this next major, it’s going to be really, really sweet. I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”

Clark looked unflappable and about to coast to a routine victory as the likes of Scheffler, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele fell away but remarkably as people in the UK and Ireland turned off their lights and got ready for bed, there was a twist to this film.

Clumsy bogeys on 15 and 16 left the door ajar for McIlroy but he didn’t do enough to step through, failing to give himself a realistic birdie chance on 17. The poor atmosphere helped Clark no doubt, but it was nice to hear the LA roar just the once, for a missed green from McIlroy on 17…

Clark got away with a sliced drive on 18 thanks to the uncharacteristically wide US Open fairways and after hitting his approach to the front of the green he left a 60-footer stone dead for the easiest of winning putts.

The American started the year 163rd in the world, and this season has seen him crack the top-35 claim his first PGA Tour win and now his maiden major in an underdog story that the streets of Hollywood know all too well.

McIlroy said during the week nobody wants him to win another major more than he does. The Twitter discourse on the back nine says otherwise…

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