LOS ANGELES, CA – Hoping to end a lifetime major championship drought, Southern California born and bred Ricky Fowler shot an EVEN par 70 over Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course to stay tied atop the leaderboard at 10-under as the 123rd U.S. Open Championship turns towards Sunday’s final round. Plucky young gun Wyndham Clark, a journeyman party crasher wo notched his first PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Wells Fargo, joins him after carding a 69. 2011 U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy lurks hungrily in third place one shot back at 9-under, while 2022 Masters Champion Scottie Scheffler climbed into fourth place at 7-under after a 68. Harris English fell to fifth at 6-under after a 1-over 71, while Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele are tied for sixth at 6-under.
“With the firmer conditions and the pins being kind of tucked front, when you miss the fairway, it makes it very hard to make par. I had to accept some bogeys there in the round early on,” Fowler recalled. “but I feel like we did a good job of kind of staying present, moving forward, and like I said, still a lot of quality shots. Through three rounds we’re in the spot that we want to be in, and tomorrow is when the tournament starts.”
Fowler balanced three birdies against three bogeys over the course of his round, taking particular advantage of the par-5s at one and 14, posting birdies at both. He’s been remarkably consistent across all facets of his game, but especially greens in regulation. Fowler has hit 41 of 54 greens (77%) putting him fourth in the field for the week in that category. It was a sterling 15 of 18 greens in reg on Thursday that helped propel him to his U.S. Open record setting and major championship record tying 62 and a lead he has only relinquished once over the course of the tournament. Xander Schauffele, playing in the group directly behind Fowler, equaled that 62 exactly 15 minutes later.
The former Oklahoma State All-American, noted for his iconic Cowboy Orange outfits on Sundays, ended a two-year victory drought with his two-stroke win in the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He best season as a professional was 2015 when he won twice on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour. Coming off a 2014 where he finished in the top five of all four majors, but not register a victory all season, he won both the PLAYERS Championship and the BMW Classic, a FedEx Cup playoff event. Since then, he’s battled injuries and confidence issues, but showed signs of resurgence during the early season, enough to make him a sleeper pick at this season’s Masters and PGA Championship.
“It’s nearly impossible to go out there and be dead focused for four to five hours. I think the big thing for me is kind of just zeroing in, narrowing things down and trying to get very precise and knowing exactly what I want to do when I’m about to hit a shot. Fowler admitted candidly. “I think I’ve done a lot better with my process leading up to shots and then not letting — understanding there are negative thoughts or that there is trouble for missed shots out there, and just accepting I may not hit it perfect.”
Fowler has been in the final group in the final round of a major championship twice before. First in the 2014 U.S. Open with Martin Kaymer, where he finished T-2. Martin Kaymer, you may recall, ran away with that tournament setting the record for lowest opening 36 holes in U.S. Open history at 130. Fowler has equaled that here in 2023. Also, Fowler played with eventual winner McIlroy at the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, wher he finished T-2 again. Fowler’s best U.S. Open finish came in 2014 at Pinehurst when he shared second place with Erik Compton; he tied for 10th in the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, a venue where he helped the USA Walker Cup Team defeat GB&I in 2009.
“This is the best I’ve felt, let alone in a normal tournament but especially a major, and I would say really ever in my career,” Fowler emphasized energetically. “We’ll just go leave it all out there, and I’m not scared to be wherever we’re at.”
The biggest name standing in Fowler’s way is, of course, Rory McIlroy, and golf fans around the globe are looking forward to a mano-a-mano, pistols in prime-time battle between the two. One of Fowler’s five PGA Tour victories came at the expense of Rory; Fowler defeated him in a playoff to win his first PGA Tour event, the 2012 Wells Fargo.
Rory last won the U.S. Open in 2011, tying or breaking every major scoring record in the process. McIlroy went on to win three more majors – two PGA Championships and an Open Championship.
McIlroy started hot with birdies at 1, and 3, but bogeyed four. He then carded pars until trading a bogey at the loong par-4 13th with a birdie at the 623-yard 14th.
“The golf course definitely got a little bit trickier today than the first couple of days. Felt like I played really smart, solid golf. I Hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens. Sort of felt somewhat stress free out there, if you can ever call golf at a U.S. Open stress free,” McIlroy noted. “I haven’t hit driver a whole lot this week. The tee shots are hugely important to then give yourself the opportunity to hit the greens and attack the pins. I haven’t been playing out of the rough that often this week, which has been really nice, and I think I’ve played smart off the tee, and I’ve done what I needed to to get the ball in play.”
His stats back that up: McIlroy ranks first overall in Greens in Regulation (44 of 54 for 81%) and sixth overall in fairways hit (31 of 39 for 79%). If Rory wins, he will break the record held by Julius Boros for longest drought between U.S. Open victories at 12 years. Boros won the U.S. Open at Northwood in 1952 and again at the Country Club (Brookline) in 1963. Jack Nicklaus owns the record for longest time between first and last win at 17 years. He won the 1963 U.S. Open at Oakmont and the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol’s Lower Course
“Overall, yeah, pretty pleased with how today went, and feel like I’m in a good spot heading into tomorrow,” McIlroy confided. “Over the last three days I’ve executed that game plan really, really well, and I just need to do that for one more day.”