MAMARONECK, N.Y. — What was supposed to be a typical U.S. Open produced a most unconventional champion.
Bryson DeChambeau was not the least bit concerned by the narrow fairways or the ankle-deep rough that shape Winged Foot into historically the toughest of all U.S. Opens. With his extra 40 pounds of muscle and mass, he wanted to pound it into submission with his driver, even if his errant shots were buried in deep grass.
That’s how he plays the game. And for skeptics who said that wouldn’t work in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot, just look at that shiny silver trophy he kissed, and the record score he posted Sunday in a six-shot victory.
This victory was as much about validating his out-of-the-box approach to the royal and ancient game.
“One hundred percent, no doubt,” DeChambeau said. “For me, it’s about the journey of can I executive every shot more repeatable than everybody else. I was able to do that this week. That’s why I won by six.”
Part of this course’s fame is the “Massacre of Winged Foot” in 1974 when the winning score was 7-over par.
This was a massacre, all right.
DeChambeau rolled in a 7-foot par putt and thrust those powerful arms in the air when he capped off a 3-under 67 on a course that didn’t allow another round under par. Two shots behind Matthew Wolff at the start of a chilly September afternoon, he caught him in four holes, passed him in five and pulled away along the back nine.
From the fairway. From the rough. It didn’t matter.
“I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does” Rory McIlroy said. “Look, he’s found a way to do it. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know, but it’s just not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played.”
Call him a mad scientist in a tam o’shanter cap. Call him a game-changer in golf.
Any description now starts with U.S. Open champion.
Wolff, trying to become the first player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win the U.S. Open in his debut, closed with a 75. He made a 10-foot eagle putt on the par-5 ninth to stay within one shot. That was his only hole under par. Wolff finished at even-par 280, a score that would have won four of the previous five U.S. Opens at Winged Foot.
It didn’t stand a chance in this one.
“You can’t take Bryson out because obviously he won, but shooting even par for four rounds at Winged Foot is pretty exceptional,” Wolff said.
That describes DeChambeau this week. It was a breathtaking performance, four rounds at par or better, the first player to manage that at Winged Foot.
His victory really began last October, when he closed out his 2019 season in Las Vegas and said with a mischievous grin, “I’m going to come back next year and look like a different person.” He added 40 pounds through intense workout and a diet of 6,000 calories a day.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf for three months, leading to the U.S. Open being postponed from June to September. It also gave DeChambeau more time to execute his plan of swinging faster and harder, stretching the limits.
His work ethnic borders on insanity, and the eve of the final round was no exception. Unhappy with how he played Saturday, hitting only three fairways, DeChambeau had the lights turned on so he could stay on the range well past 8 p.m., pounding driver, searching for the right swing. Temperatures were in the 40s. He was in a short-sleeve shirt.
He didn’t find fairways, but he seemed to miss in the right spots. That was key for a player who hit only six fairways on Sunday, 23 out of 56 for the week.
Skepticism turned into admiration, with a healthy dose of disbelief.
“It’s a game we’ve never really seen before,” said Harris English, who shot 73 and finished fourth.
Louis Oosthuizen birdied the 18th to finish alone in third.
“I don’t think they can set it up for him, to be honest,” Oosthuizen said. “I don’t know what they can do really, because he’s hitting it so far. He’s so strong out of the rough. And he’s probably one of the best putters out there, which a week that he really putts well, you’re going to have a lot of trouble.”
In six U.S. Opens at Winged Foot among 894 competitors, DeChambeau is only the third to finish a tournament under par. His 6-under 274 was the lowest score, and no one saw it coming this week.
Wolff, the 21-year-old Californian who can drive it past DeChambeau with a lower flight and more roll in the fairway, gave him a good run in his quest to become the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923.
The U.S. Open was still up for grabs for a fleeting moment around the turn. DeChambeau and Wolff each got out of position on the eighth hole and made bogey. DeChambeau was at 3 under, one shot ahead of Wolff. Ahead of them, Oosthuizen and Xander Schauffele were lurking at even par.
Still to play was the back nine, where so much has gone wrong at Winged Foot over the years.
Not this time.
DeChambeau and Wolff blasted drives down the fairway on the par-5 ninth. DeChambeau rolled in a 40-foot eagle putt with perfect pace. Wolff, who had pitching wedge for his second shot, matched his eagle with a 10-foot putt.
Just like that it was a two-man race.
And then it was a one-man show.
Wolff’s tee shot on the par-3 10th rolled left into the thick collar of the bunker, a spot so precarious he had to stand in the deep bunker and grip halfway down the steel shaft of his sand wedge. He chipped 10 feet by the hole for a bogey to fall two shots behind.
From the fairway on the 11th, however, Wolff hit wedge that was chunky and went into the right rough, and he had to scramble for par instead of setting up a reasonable birdie chance. DeChambeau from the right rough came up short, but he used putter from off the green for birdie from 15 feet away.
With a three-shot lead, DeChambeau kept blasting away as if he were chasing, not leading, just like he said he would. He saved par from the left rough on the 14th and a perfect pitch from deep grass behind the green. He downed another protein shake walking down the 15th, marching along to a major title that affirms his position in the game as a pioneer.
Imagine the USGA, which has been studying the impact on distance, getting together for a debriefing after this performance. What would they say?
“He’s hitting it forever,” DeChambeau said with a laugh.
The last laugh.
MAMARONECK, N.Y. – First came Collin Morikawa at the PGA Championship, and now comes Matthew Wolff, another prodigious talent born of the Southern California junior golf scene, at the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Wolff, 21, shot a front-nine 30 on the way to a third-round 65. He will take a two-stroke lead over familiar nemesis Bryson DeChambeau (70) going into the final round on Sunday.
“Collin won at 23,” said Wolff, “I’m 21, and I’m not saying that it’s going to happen, but I mean, I put myself in a really good spot, and obviously I’m feeling really good with my game. So I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing and whatever happens, happens.”
Although this is Wolff’s first U.S. Open, his style – the funky trigger, the wacky swing path – aligns with the tournament’s all-welcoming ethos. Anyone can qualify, and with the most unique swing on any driving range, Wolff looks exactly like “anyone” – until you see what he can do with the ball.
Wolff hit just two fairways Saturday, but was pleased with his driving going into Sunday, explaining that he wasn’t off by much. He hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation and birdied the 18th hole for his two-stroke lead.
The final tee time will feature two of the most iconoclastic talents in the game. DeChambeau is trying to win his first major and his second title (Rocket Mortgage Classic) since bulking up to add driving distance.
“The past two majors I’ve played in I’ve been right in contention,” he said, noting his T4 finish at the PGA Championship last month. “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.”
Should Wolff hang on, he would be the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923, and the first 21-year-old U.S. Open winner since Jordan Spieth in 2015. Wolff would also be the first player to win the tournament in his debut since Francis Ouimet in 1913.
He would also stamp an exclamation point on an up and down 2020.
Wolff, who edged Morikawa and DeChambeau for his first PGA TOUR victory at the 3M Open just over a year ago, finished 35th in the recently concluded FedExCup. That wasn’t great, but he began playing better over the summer. The 54-hole leader at the Rocket Mortgage, he shot 71 to finish second to DeChambeau (65), and they each tied for fourth at the PGA.
His mistake in Detroit, Wolff said, was looking ahead and getting “antsy” to start the final round, a gaffe he is hoping to avoid Sunday. He said he has played this week while thinking about his agent, who was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, putting the golf into perspective.
Those behind Wolff and DeChambeau include Louis Oosthuizen (68, 1 under, four back), plus the threesome of Harris English (72), Hideki Matsuyama (70) and Xander Schauffele (70).
“You know, it doesn’t take much around here,” said Rory McIlroy, whose 68 got him to 1 over for the tournament, six back. “Someone gets off to a decent start, maybe 1- or 2-under through 5 and then the leader goes the other way, 1- or 2-over through 5, and all of a sudden you’re right in the thick of things.”
The weather for Sunday’s final round is expected to be more of the same, which is to say cold in the morning, followed by crisp sunshine in the afternoon. Autumn in New York.
“It feels like I should be tailgating right now,” said Zach Johnson (68, 2 over total).
Much like Morikawa in San Francisco last month, Wolff will play the final round not in front of boisterous New York galleries, or any type of galleries, but amid the quiet of his own thoughts.
That’s not insignificant.
Said McIlroy, “Just makes it a touch easier for the guys at the top.”
Wolff, sometimes described as fearless, admits he will almost certainly be nervous for the final round but doesn’t argue with that adjective. Sunday might be his greatest test yet.
“I go out there and I play my game,” he said. “There’s a lot of holes out there that maybe people would try to hit it in the fairway or maybe take the safe play because it is a U.S. Open and they know that pars are a good score, but I don’t really like to think of it that way.
“I like to go out there and do what I feel comfortable with,” he added, “rip dog and see how it goes from there. I feel comfortable with every part of my game so I don’t like to shy away from things when I’m feeling confident, and I’m probably going to do the same tomorrow.”
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — This was the Winged Foot everyone has heard about. This is the U.S. Open everyone expected.
Patrick Reed answered the first big test Friday when the wind arrived out of the north, bringing a little chill and a lot of trouble. He never got flustered by bogeys and made enough birdie putts and key saves for an even-par 70.
It felt just as rewarding as the 66 he shot in the opening round, and it gave him a one-shot lead over muscleman Bryson DeChambeau, who powered and putted his way to a 68.
The opening round featured soft greens, a few accessible pins and 21 rounds under par. Friday was the epitome of a major long known as the toughest test in golf.
Three players broke par. Nine others shot even par. Everyone else was hanging on for dear life. As the final groups tried to beat darkness in this September U.S. Open, only six players remained in red numbers.
”It’s almost like they set it up to ease our way into it, and then showed us what it’s supposed to really be like,” Reed said.
Television showed his five birdies. What took him to the 36-hole lead at 4-under 136 was a collection of pars from bunkers and from thick grass just over the greens. He managed them all with grit, a common trait among U.S. Open champions.
DeChambeau showed plenty of resiliency, too, bouncing back with birdies after all five of his bogeys and finishing the best round of the day with a pitching wedge on the downwind, 557-yard, par-5 ninth to 6 feet for eagle.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain and Harris English each had a 70 and were at 2-under 138.
They were joined by Justin Thomas, who opened with a 65 – the lowest ever at Winged Foot for a U.S. Open – and lost all those shots to par after 10 holes. Thomas then delivered a 5-wood from 228 yards into the wind on the par-3 third hole and made a slick, 15-foot, double-breaking birdie putt to steady himself. He scratched out a 73 and is right in it.
Jason Kokrak (71) was the only other player under par at 1-under 139.
”This isn’t exactly a place where you go out and try to shoot 6 or 7 under to catch up,” Thomas said. ”I’m not going to worry about what everyone else is doing because you could shoot 80 just as easily as you could shoot 68. I just need to stay focused, and most importantly, go home and get some rest. Because I’m pretty tired.”
There’s still 36 holes to go, and no indication that Winged Foot is going to get any easier.
”The rough is still really thick. I don’t think they’re planning on cutting it,” Matthew Wolff said after salvaging a 74 that left him four shots behind. ”The greens are only going to get firmer, and the scores are only going to get higher.”
Tiger Woods is among those who won’t be around to experience it. He had a pair of double bogeys at the end of the back nine, and two birdies over his last three holes gave him a 77. He missed the cut by four shots, the eighth time in his last 15 majors he won’t be around for the weekend.
”It feels like the way the golf course is changing, is turning, that anybody who makes the cut has the opportunity to win this championship,” Woods said. ”I didn’t get myself that opportunity.”
Neither did Phil Mickelson, who had his highest 36-hole score in 29 appearances in the one major he hasn’t won. Ditto for Jordan Spieth, whose 81 was his highest score in a major. PGA champion Collin Morikawa missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole that cost him a chance to keep playing.
Reed turned in a workman-like performance, making birdies when he had the chance, saving par when needed. This is the kind of golf he loves. It’s a grind. And it’s about feel. He was most pleased with his birdie on No. 1 after he made the turn, going with a chip 8-iron from 147 yards into the wind and riding the slope at the back of the green to tap-in range.
”I love when it’s hard, when you have to be creative on all different golf shots,” he said.
There were plenty of great rounds on such a demanding course, many of which fell apart at the end. Louis Oosthuizen was 3 under in the morning when he finished bogey-bogey-double bogey for a 74. Xander Schauffele was 3 under until he bogeyed three of his last five holes.
”The wind can make a par-3 course difficult, so put that on a U.S. Open setup, it’s going to be even more so,” Schauffele said. ”It’ll be a fun afternoon to watch on TV.”
Rory McIlroy’s problems started early. He was 5 over through seven holes, including a birdie at the start, and shot 76 to fall seven shots behind. Dustin Johnson was bogey-free through 16 holes until a pair of bad tee shots led to bogey. He had a 70 and was in the group at 3-over 143.
All of them still feel as though the U.S. Open is in sight.
”I’m confident now, after seeing what was out there this afternoon, over par will win this tournament,” Adam Scott said a 74 left him nine shots back. ”The greens finally dried out. If there’s any breeze, over par is winning.”
It usually does at Winged Foot.
MAMARONECK, N.Y. – This wasn’t the kind of fun Justin Thomas had in mind for a U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
But he’ll take it.
For all the hype and history of how much punishment Winged Foot has doled out over the years. Thomas took advantage of a surprising soft and gentle Thursday morning with a 5-under 65, the lowest score in six U.S. Opens on this tough Tillinghast design.
All that got him was a one-shot lead over Patrick Reed, Thomas Pieters of Belgium and Matthew Wolff, the 21-year-old Californian making his U.S. Open debut.
Rory McIlroy was among those two shots behind on a scoreboard filled with red numbers, an unusual site at a Winged Foot course that has never yielded so many rounds under par – 21 – in the opening round of a U.S. Open.
And then he delivered six birdies in the opening round, finishing with a 25-footer on the 18th on a putt he barely moved to get it started down one of the many wicked slopes on Winged Foot’s greens.
”Yeah, 65 is fun no matter where you play, especially at Winged Foot,” Thomas said. ”I was in a really good frame of mind, and I was focused. I just was sticking to my routine and playing every shot, as opposed to getting ahead of myself. It’s one of those rounds where … next thing you know, you make the putt on 18, you’re done for the day.”
He played with Masters champion Tiger Woods and PGA champion Collin Morikawa, who couldn’t get done fast enough.
Woods was in five bunkers through five holes and then appeared to steady himself with three straight birdies around the turn to get under par, but only briefly. He made three bogeys coming in, still had a chance to post a reasonable score and then let it get away.
”It’s helpful with three days left, but it’s not even remotely close to being over,” Thomas said of his best start in a U.S Open or any major. ”As great of a round and fun as it was, it’s over with now, and I need to get over it.”
Thomas went into the week saying it was a ”different kind of fun” to grind over pars, to hit middle irons to difficult pins instead of the low scoring at so many other tournaments.
From short of the steep shelf fronting the 18th green, he flubbed a flop shot, pitched the next one about 8 feet beyond the pin and missed the putt to take double bogey for a73.
”I did not finish off the round like I needed to,” Woods said, a feeling he conveyed five more times out of the six questions he faced after his round.
Neither did Morikawa, who shot 40 on the back nine for a 76.
Pieters and Wolff dropped only one shot along the way while playing in the afternoon, when the greens became a little more difficult because of all the foot traffic. Even so, low scores – at least by Winged Foot standards – kept coming.
Louis Oosthuizen shot 30 on the front nine, after starting on 10, including a shot he holed from the fairway on No. 2 for an eagle. He shot 67 and joined the group that included Lee Westwood and McIlroy.
”There’s a couple of guys that went a little lower than maybe expected,” McIlroy said. ”But it’s not as if the rest of the field are finding it that easy.”
Raise your hand, Phil Mickelson.
Returning to the scene of a double bogey on the 72nd hole that cost him the 2006 U.S. Open, Mickelson opened with two birdies and still struggled to break 80. He went rough-to-rough on the 18th and shot 79. Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world, couldn’t make putts and shot 73.
Most irritating to Woods was a missed chance to score.
Low clouds added to the soft feel of Winged Foot. The greens were fast but not as firm. Jordan Spieth discovered that on the first hole. He was trying to figure out if his approach would take a hard hop and release or land soft and spin back. He guessed wrong, the ball rolled down the slope to the front of the the green and he three-putted for bogey. He also shot 73.
Thomas judged it correctly with a short iron left of the flag that spun back close to the hole for birdie. His only dropped shot came at the par-3 third because the ball settled on a downward slope of a bunker, leaving him no chance to get it close. There were few complaints the rest of the way.
He also made three birdies around the turn, narrowly missing a fourth in a row from just inside 10 feet at the par-5 12th. Thomas felt at easy, and Winged Foot allowed him to feel that way. At least on Thursday.
The previous low score for a U.S. Open was a 66 by Fuzzy Zoeller in the second round in 1984.
”The greens are very soft,” Thomas said. ”I thought they’d be a little firmer, but I also understood that they need to err on this side of they can get them how they want this weekend. … It’s still Winged Foot. You’ve still got to hit the shots.”
Reed had one of two aces on the seventh hole, both with a delayed celebration because no spectators are allowed.
”It would have been nuts. Up here in New York, the fans are amazing,” he said. ”It was unfortunate the fans weren’t here because that would have been an awesome experience. But at the same time, an ace is an ace. I’ll take it either way.”
Reed prefers the U.S. Open to be a battle for par, and so it was for those who got out of position. Even then, he delivered. Reed clipped a tree on the 16th and was some 300 yards from the green and managed to escape with par. Ditto for the 17th, where he hammered a hybrid out of thick grass and let it run hot onto the putting surface.