What do Matthew Wolff and Francis Ouimet have in common? Nothing yet, but that could be about to change at Winged Foot. The scale of Wolff’s potential achievement is borne out by history. Ouimet was the last player to win the US Open on his debut; 107 years ago. Freakishly, 1913 also marked the last time this major was held in September. It even concluded on the month’s 20th day.
The 21-year-old Wolff, doubtless inspired by Collin Morikawa’s success at last month’s US PGA Championship, will take a two-stroke lead at five under par into day four after a third round display that completely belied his inexperience. Wolff’s grip on this major was tightened on the final green, where he converted for a birdie. The leader’s wonderful second shot, from 207 yards, had finished within 10ft of the cup. Wolff signed for a 65. Not only is this his maiden US Open appearance, it is only his second in a major. Winged Foot is renowned as one of golf’s most brutal tests; Wolff has made it appear so blissfully straightforward. So far, that is.
“Right now I feel very confident with every single part of my game,” said Wolff. “I’m not going to think about it too much and just go out there and do the same things I’ve done the last three days. Right now I’m just looking to go have a good time. And it’s just golf.
“Even though it is the US Open, there’s a lot of things in life that are a little different right now and in the world you can see how many things are affecting us.” Wolff’s maturity extends beyond the ropes.
His front nine of 30 was outstanding. By the closing stages of his round, he held a four-stroke advantage over the field. That was reduced by Wolff failing to save par at the 16th but he stood strong as more illustrious, seasoned names wilted. Patrick Reed, who held the halfway lead, was ragged during a 77.
Bryson DeChambeau is prone to talking at great length to himself mid-round but he appeared more irritated than is typical during a 70. Still, it is DeChambeau who sits closest to the unflappable Wolff. Recent history favours the older man, given the 27-year-old overturned a three-shot Wolff lead when winning in Detroit in early July.
Louis Oosthuizen, who has major winning experience, quietly emerged from the pack with a 68, which edged him to one under par. “I need to play pretty similarly to what I did today,” said Oosthuizen when asked about his prospects of winning. “You need to hit fairways.
“I think everyone out there now, especially on this golf course, knows you need to be patient. A lot can happen even in the last two, three holes, so you have to try and get yourself in a position with three, four, five holes to go and see what you can do.”
Hideki Matsuyama was two under par before disaster struck at the penultimate hole. Matsuyama shanked a shot from green-side rough into a bunker. This all contributed to a double-bogey six. Matsuyama will begin the fourth round five from Wolff’s lead.
Xander Schauffele holed out from 30ft at the last to tie Matsuyama. Schauffele watched Wolff “destroy” Harding Park in the final round of the US PGA. “He hits it really far,” said Schauffele of Wolff. “He hits it really high. He’s not afraid.” Harris English later joined the level-par party.
Rory McIlroy is not out of this tournament by any stretch. The Northern Irishman rebounded brilliantly from a second round of 76 by posting a 68.
At one over, McIlroy’s dreams of adding a fifth major title to his CV are very much alive. “If I go out there tomorrow and shoot another 68, I won’t be too far away,” said McIlroy. He did, however, admit the absence of galleries is a potential benefit to Wolff as he seeks to make history.
“It’s one variable that you just don’t have to deal with,” McIlroy said. “It’s that loss of an advantage to you, who’s accustomed to being in that environment.”
Paul Casey admitted he had thoughts solely on breaking 80 when playing his first seven holes in five over. The Englishman produced a stunning back nine of 30, meaning a 69 for a five-over aggregate. Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood have the same 54-hole total.
Jon Rahm’s 76 leaves him seven over. At plus four, Justin Thomas needs a drastic fourth-round improvement plus collapses elsewhere; he shot 76 on Saturday. That score is, it must be said, about the best one can muster when playing Winged Foot almost exclusively from the rough.
Mystery surrounds the actions of Danny Lee, who took nine at the 18th and duly withdrew from the event, citing a wrist injury. Maybe it was incurred when adding up his score. Sadly, no footage appears available of Lee’s final-hole antics.