Playing in his first U.S. Open, Matthew Wolff showed the world an unusual game plan for Saturday’s third round – drive the ball into Winged Foot’s unforgiving rough, hope for a good lie, reach the green in regulation and make his share of birdie putts.
The plan evidently worked. The 21-year-old Wolff did not seem bothered by the fact that he hit just two of 14 fairways, but with the help of six birdies, he fired a 5-under-par 65 and took a 2-stroke lead after 54 holes of the 120th Open in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Wolff, who began the day four shots off the lead held by Patrick Reed, enters Sunday’s final round with a score of 5-under 205 and the advantage over long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau.
DeChambeau rebounded from bogeys on each of his first two holes and played steady golf while capitalizing on his remarkable power over the 7,441-yard layout, firing a even-par 70 for a 207 total.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, crept up the leader board with a 68 for third place at 209. Xander Schauffele, who has finished in the top 10 in the U.S. Open the last three years, and Hideki Matsuyama each shot a 70 to tie at 210 with Harris English (72).
With a 68, 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy finished in seventh place at 211, still 6 strokes out.
Reed, whose short game bailed him out of some tough spots the first two days, did not have the same success Saturday. After a birdie at No. 2 to go to 5-under, his game went into reverse and his score of 77, which included an 8-over 43 on the back nine, left him at 213.
Wolff, a former NCAA champion at Oklahoma State who won his first PGA Tour event last year, notched five birdies on the front nine with none of his birdie putts traveling more than 14 feet. Although he bogeyed the 16th, he closed nicely by sinking a 10-foot birdie putt on 18.
He hit 12 greens in regulation, and 12 missed fairways obviously weren’t a factor.
“I go out there and 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. 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 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” Sunday.
DeChambeau, 27, appeared to be off his game after his two opening bogeys but settled down with the help of a 24-foot birdie putt at the par-3 seventh. His last two birdies came at the 16th and 17th holes to get him to within one stroke of Wolff, but he missed a 6-foot par putt at the last and will start Sunday two down.
“The round today was a huge battle,” he said. “I was proud of the way I persevered out there. It was difficult especially when you’re not hitting it straight in the fairway. I felt like I kept myself in it, scrambled really well. I’ve got to do that [Sunday] but I also have to hit some more fairways.”
Wolff certainly has not been overawed by the moment. He was 20 years and two months old when he won the 2019 3M Classic in Minneapolis. He held the 54-hole lead last July at the Rocket Mortgage Classic but DeChambeau overtook him for the win. He tied for fourth in his first career major, last month’s PGA Championship.
Now he’ll be paired in the final group Sunday with DeChambeau.