When Matthew Wolff was born, Tiger Woods already owned four majors. He wasn’t even old enough to drive when Rory McIlroy won his most recent major. He’s playing in only his second major ever, after last month’s PGA Championship.
Matthew Wolff is young, is what we’re saying. And the 21-year-old is currently leading the U.S. Open by two strokes heading into Sunday.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to those who keep an eye on golf outside the majors. Wolff’s a brilliant talent with a tree-chopping stroke that’s more fit for a home run derby than a golf course. He’s part of the Oklahoma State golf cartel that includes Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Alex Noren and Viktor Hovland. He turned pro in June 2019, and took a full two weeks to win his first PGA Tour event.
Wolff did a spectacular job of keeping his head while the rest of the field was losing theirs on Saturday, surfing through a swirling New York wind and swooping Winged Foot greens to card a 65, matching Justin Thomas’ Thursday card for the lowest score ever recorded during a U.S. Open at the course. He only hit two fairways all day, but nonetheless managed to recover enough to put himself in position hole after hole.
A U.S. Open isn’t supposed to be easy, and Winged Foot once again reminded the game’s best who’s in charge. Wolff’s Saturday total of -5 left him just a single stroke ahead of Patrick Reed’s leading total on Friday night, and even with Justin Thomas’ on Thursday. By the time Saturday’s work was done, only three players were under par for the tournament, down from 21 on Thursday.
“It's just another day at the U.S. Open,” Xander Schauffele said. “Kind of beats the crap out of you and kind of recover tonight and have dinner and laugh about it, and then try and do it again tomorrow.”
It didn’t take long for the day’s final pairing, Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, to slide into the teeth of Winged Foot. DeChambeau bogeyed his first two holes to drop two strokes off the lead. Reed, meanwhile, held a brief three-stroke lead on the field before sliding back to the pack.
Reed then bottomed out on the back nine, recording four bogeys and a double over the space of five holes to plunge down the leaderboard. He finished the day at +3, eight strokes off the lead and an 11-stroke swing relative to the field.
DeChambeau, meanwhile, steadied himself, going -2 over the rest of the way to stay at even par on the day and -3 for the tournament. That left him two strokes off Wolff’s lead and in the final pairing.
Also right there: Louis Oosthuizen, who’s managed a runner-up finish in every single major but only won one. He sits at -1, the only other player besides DeChambeau and Wolff to finish the day under par for the tournament. Close by at even par: three players with pure strokes and controlled games seeking their first major in Harris English, Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama.
And if you’re looking for a bit of star power: none other than McIlroy his own self lurks at +1. McIlroy has struggled with the pressure on him on major Sundays, but he’ll go off in the fourth-to-last group with a bit less pressure than in a final pairing.
McIlroy noted that he’s not exactly rooting against the players ahead of him, because he’s got his own challenges to overcome:
“It's sort of a double-edged sword, right, because you would think that you'd want tougher conditions because it'll make it more difficult for the guys in front of you, but also makes it more difficult for yourself,” he said. “I think looking at the forecast, the conditions are going to be pretty similar to today, which is fine. If I go out there [Sunday] and shoot another 68, I won't be too far away.”
“It's golf; anything can happen, especially at a course like this,” Wolff said after his round. “I know if I keep calm and not let my emotions get the best of me, I should have a really good chance.”
Wolff is now the lead dog. How will he handle the pressure of leading a major in just his 29th professional start? We’re about to find out.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at email@example.com.
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