CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Every tournament is a referendum on the mental game.
This was thrown into high relief when Giannis Antetokounmpo, after his Milwaukee Bucks got bounced from the NBA postseason, said not every loss was a failure, a speech so raw and real that it went viral. It especially resonated on the PGA TOUR, where even Tiger Woods’ winning percentage (22%) reminds that failure lurks around every dogleg.
“We are all just a bunch of losers at the end of the day,” Xander Schauffele said.
“You either win or you learn,” Tony Finau added.
Which brings us to Wyndham Clark, who shot a final-round 68 to win the Wells Fargo Championship by four over Xander Schauffele (70). A phenomenal talent whose results were not matching up with his skillset, Clark, the 2017 Pac-12 Player of the Year at Oregon, could no longer ignore the reason. He was fragile – his word – and living and dying with every shot.
After watching him lose his cool time and again, his team insisted he address it.
“It was either that or quit,” Clark said. “I just wasn’t having any fun.”
So began a journey in which he went all-in on the mental side, which meant not only seeing a sports psychologist but diving into books like “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday and “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. You could say it’s worked nicely.
After a nervous start in which Clark yanked his opening drive into the gallery, bogeyed the first hole and failed to birdie the par-5 seventh, Schauffele caught him and even took a one-stroke lead. Undeterred, Clark went 5 under in a 10-hole stretch to take a five-shot lead into 18.
The old him? He would have gotten emotional and found a way to beat himself.
“I felt like today when I didn’t have the best start early on, I just told myself to relax, I have a lot more holes,” said Clark, whose first PGA TOUR win came in his 134th start and paid $3.6 million. “You can’t win the tournament after the first few holes on a Sunday – little things where in the past I would have gotten fast and quick and already my mind’s going forward.”
Clark was third in Strokes Gained: Putting for the week despite coming in 74th in that stat on the season. He also led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green and SG: Tee-to-Green. This despite the fact that he ranked 63rd in Driving Accuracy, hitting 23 of 56 fairways.
What was harder to measure was just how far he’d come mentally.
Clark first considered quitting golf a decade ago, after his mother, Lise, died of breast cancer. She was the one who started him in golf, driving him to tournaments, and she brought him back to center when the game drove him to distraction. Without her, he would lose his composure in qualifiers at Oklahoma State – he started in Stillwater before transferring to Oregon – and stay angry.
That tendency followed him all the way to the professional ranks – until he resolved to fix it.
Clark would need his newfound equanimity at Quail Hollow. He admitted his start Sunday would have derailed him in the past.
“I didn’t want to be the person that I was in previous Sundays in previous years,” he said, “because that person, you know, probably shoots 2, 3 over today or even more and loses his head and gets mad out there and doesn’t control his emotions.”
On the contrary, he birdied the eighth and par-5 10th holes. Meanwhile, Schauffele began to show cracks, spraying his drives as he bogeyed Nos. 9 and 11 as Clark retook the lead. He extended that lead to four shots with a birdie on 12, then made more birdies on 14 and 15.
The rout was on, and Clark didn’t look so fragile anymore.
“A buzzsaw,” Schauffele said.
Clark moves from 36th to fifth in the FedExCup, and with a newfound poise and confidence at age 29 could remain a potent force for the remainder of this season and beyond.
“He’s really talented, he hits it really far, and he’s an amazing chipper,” said Tony Finau, whose coach, Boyd Summerhays, used to also coach Clark. “He’s got some tangibles that are really good for high-level golf.
“If he figures it out mentally,” Finau continued, “which he has been – and really working on it, is what it sounds like – he can be a force out here, no question.”
Asked about Clark, his coach at Oregon, Casey Martin, texted, “Great kid. Driven. Almost to a fault. Wants it bad. Hard worker. Great athlete.” He cited Clark’s partnership with caddie/coach John Ellis, who played for Oregon and was an assistant there, as especially impactful.
Ellis, whose professional career included nine PGA TOUR starts and a career-best T24 at the 2010 Fortinet Championship, agreed that the old Clark could have let this tournament slip away.
“We got off to a bad start, a nervy start,” he said. “Before, we’ve had a few chances to win and he would hit a few bad shots and let it go away, right? It would affect him. He never wavered.”
What’s next for Clark?
“He has the work ethic to be the best player in the world,” Ellis said. “To win against this field, on this course, the next step will be feeling comfortable in majors, but the sky is the limit.”
Clark himself probably wouldn’t disagree, but for now he’ll savor this one. There were times, he admitted, when he told those closest to him that a victory just might never happen. Not for him.
“Honestly, it’s really, it’s surreal,” he said. “I’ve dreamt about this since I was probably 6 years old. Since I’ve been on the PGA TOUR, you fantasize about it all the time, and I’ve done it multiple times this year where I catch myself daydreaming about winning, and to do it at this golf course against this competition is better than I could ever have imagined.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Wyndham Clark shot an 8-under 63 in the Wells Fargo Championship on Saturday, putting him in position for his first PGA TOUR win.
The 29-year-old Clark has a two-shot lead going into the final round. The Denver, Colorado native is at 16-under 197 for the tournament.
Xander Schauffele, the world’s fifth-ranked player, shot 64 at Quail Hollow while playing alongside Clark. Schauffele is at 14 under.
Adam Scott and third-round co-leader Tyrrell Hatton are tied for third at 11 under, five shots behind Clark. Tommy Fleetwood, Harris English and Sungjae Im are tied for fifth, six shots off the pace.
Defending champion Max Homa shot 68 and is at 8 under for the tournament.
Clark is within striking distance of the tournament’s 72-hole scoring mark (in relation to par) of 21-under 267 set by Rory McIlroy in 2015. That was when Quail Hollow played to a par 72; it is now par 71.
At one point on Saturday there were 11 players tied for the lead.
Clark shot 31 on the front nine and posted birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 15. He hit his first 17 greens before his approach shot on No 18 landed two inches off the green. He needed just 28 putts on Saturday, best in the field.
But Schauffele wouldn’t let Clark pull away.
He put his 260-yard approach shot on No. 15 to within 27 feet to set up an eagle, and then added a birdie on 16 to cut Schauffele’s lead to two.
While he has never won, Clark’s ascension on the leaderboard doesn’t come as a huge surprise given his recent play. He has finished in the top six in three of his last five tournaments and hasn’t missed a cut since last October’s Shriners Children’s Open.
Brendon Todd was one of the big movers on Saturday, shooting a 65 to get to 9 under.
McIlroy’s bid for a fourth win at Quail Hollow is essentially over after the world’s third-ranked player failed to make a move on Saturday, shooting an inconsistent 71 that left him at 1 under for the tournament. McIlroy had previously won the event in 2010, 2015 and 2021.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tyrrell Hatton shot a 6-under 65 on Friday to move into a share of the second-round lead at the Wells Fargo Championship, while Rory McIlroy’s bid for a record fourth tournament title hit a major snag.
Hatton, who has one PGA TOUR victory and six more on the DP World Tour, played the final four holes at Quail Hollow in 4 under to reach 8-under 134, matching Nate Lashley and Wyndham Clark through 36 holes.
Lashley is also a one-time winner on TOUR, while Clark has zero victories.
Several highly ranked players were close behind, including Xander Schauffele and major champions Justin Thomas and Adam Scott in the group of six at 7 under alongside Sungjae Im, J.J. Spaun and Adam Svensson.
Defending champion Max Homa moved into contention. He shot 67 and was three shots back.
With 28 players within four shots of the lead, Schauffele called the tournament “anyone’s game.”
“They say the cream rises to the top and the harder the property … the better players typically rise,” Schauffele said. “So, I mean, I think it’s just these fields are really good now.”
Hatton began his round on the back nine and his strong closing stretch included a 26-foot eagle putt on the par-5 seventh hole. The Englishman made three putts of 25 feet or more on his last four holes.
“They’re not the type of putts that you hole consistently, so to finish the round that way, I’m obviously very pleased with that,” Hatton said. “Nice to see some putts go in.”
McIlroy, who won at Quail Hollow in 2010, 2015 and 2021, shot 73 and escaped with an impressive par on the par-4 18th to make the cut on the number.
His tee shot on 18 nearly rolled into the stream along the left side of the fairway. Facing an uneven lie with the ball well above his feet, McIlroy changed clubs multiple times before settling in and finding the front of the green with his approach shot. He two-putted from 75 feet.
While a seven-shot deficit seems a lot to overcome, it was McIlroy who shot 61 on Saturday in 2015 on the way to victory.
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2017 and helped lead the United States to a win at the Presidents Cup here last year, shot 67 to get himself in the mix.
“I know how to get around the course pretty well,” Thomas said. “I think it’s obviously different but kind of similar to Augusta National. I feel like if I’m not hitting it well, there’s always a spot I have like I can kind of get it to.”
First-round leader Tommy Fleetwood followed his opening-round 65 with a 71 and was 6 under. Fleetwood has six DP World Tour victories but none on the PGA TOUR. He remained confident about his chances.
“Nobody’s really getting away (from the pack) and there’s not that many low scores,” Fleetwood said. “Just shows how difficult the test of golf is out there on that golf course. I played really well. I feel like if you do that, then your chances are going to come and you can take them.”
Mark Hubbard aced the 170-yard, par-3 17th and was 2 under.
CHARLOTTE, Nc. — Tommy Fleetwood finished a bogey-free round of 65 with birdies at Nos. 17 and 18 at Quail Hollow’s difficult three-hole closing stretch dubbed the “Green Mile.” Fleetwood has won six times on the DP World Tour but never on the PGA TOUR.
“I just have to keep going and wait for those really big results and hopefully start contending again up at the top of the leaderboard and we’ll see what we can do from there,” Fleetwood said.
Fleetwood’s 6-under 65 was one stroke better than Xander Schauffele, Kevin Streelman, Taylor Moore, K.H. Lee and Ryan Palmer, who are tied for second after opening 66s.
Schauffele appeared ready to take control of the tournament early after racing to 7 under after 15 holes. But he bogeyed two of the three final holes to surrender the lead.
“I really had it going there. The ball was on a string for a bit and I did everything really well,” Schauffele said. “It’s a championship-style golf course, so played really well through 15 holes and then had a little hiccup there coming in, so it is what it is.”
Patrick Cantlay, with Tiger Woods’ former caddie Joe LaCava on his bag, shot 67.
Cantlay seemed to mesh well with LaCava, who was on the bag for 12 of Woods’ tournament wins, including the 2019 Masters.
Cantlay, who has played without a yardage book in his pocket since turning pro, placed immediate trust in LaCava, who helped him read a tricky uphill birdie putt on No. 8.
LaCava had worked once before with Cantlay, at The Genesis Invitational in 2021 when Woods was injured, and came highly recommended by Fred Couples.
“He’s just a great dude,” Cantlay said. “I trust Fred a lot, he’s a good friend of mine. I’ve gotten pretty close to him over the years, so when he says something like that, I know he means it.”
World No. 3 Rory McIlroy shot a 3-under 68 at the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday in his first tournament since missing the cut at the Masters. The Northern Irishman said earlier in the week he didn’t touch his clubs for more than two weeks, adding that he needed a “reset” to gain some perspective because golf had begun to consume his life.
It’s no surprise McIlroy is off to a strong start at Quail Hollow, a course that fits his game. He has won the Wells Fargo Championship three times and finished in the top 10 nine times in 11 starts
It’s also the site of his first PGA TOUR victory in 2010 and where he set a tournament scoring record at 21-under 267 in a dominating seven-stroke win in 2015. He won again in 2021, making him the tournament’s only three-time champion.
Defending champion and two-time winner Max Homa shot 70.
The ever-improving Tony Finau, who has won four of the last 18 tournaments he has entered — including last week’s Mexico Open at Vidanta — rallied to shoot 71 after birdieing two of his final three holes.