Wyndham Clark has four-stroke lead heading into Players Championship weekend

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — If you watched Wyndham Clark win the U.S. Open last June, hadn’t heard much about him before that and pegged him as a one-and-done, flash-in-the-pan story, you may want to reconsider that thought.

The 30-year-old Clark is quietly developing into one of the big-game hunters in golf and, at the moment, he has his eyes set on the $4.5 million first-place prize awarded to The Players Championship winner and the career prestige that comes with winning the sport’s “fifth major.’’

Clark, who scorched TPC Sawgrass with a 7-under-par 65 in Friday’s second round, will take a four-shot lead into the final 36 holes at 14-under.

Wyndham Clark takes a divot as he hits on the 14th hole during the second round of The Players Championship golf tournament. AP

The only players in the afternoon wave of tee times that made a run at Clark were Xander Schauffele, who shot 69, and Nick Taylor, who shot 68. They both trail Clark by four shots.

Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 2022 U.S. Open winner, and Maverick McNealy are both 9-under.

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Canadian Corey Conners, Matti Schmid, a first-timer here from Germany who double bogeyed his final hole, No. 18, and Tom Hoge all six shots back at 8-under.

Brian Harman, the defending British Open champion, J.T. Poston, Sahith Theegala and C.T. Pan are all at 7-under.

For Clark, who in February won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, one of the PGA Tour’s “elevated’’ events, appears to be following a similar path to Scheffler, who’s been ranked No. 1 in the world for the past 10 months.

Before 2022, Scheffler had not won a tournament despite trending in contention often. Then he finally broke through and has won seven times since, including the 2022 Masters and last year’s Players.

Clark captured his first career victory at last year’s Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow, won the U.S. Open and won again at Pebble. Now he’s 36 holes of more great golf away from a fourth win in less than two years.

When asked what the deal is about his big-tournament success, Clark sounded perplexed.

Wyndham Clark talks on the ninth hole during the second round of The Players Championship PGA golf tournament. Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio / USA TODAY NETWORK

“I just really don’t know what it is,’’ he said. “I would like to play great every week. I really looked at how Scottie has been playing this year and last year and I use him as someone to try to keep up with, and he plays good every week.

“I have so much respect for Scottie and his game and consistency and he really is kind of the meter right now of where you want to try to be,’’ Clark said. “I think the best thing about Scottie is his consistency. Last year … I was very consistent in making cuts and kind of always being in the top 20 and then I won a few times, but Scottie’s always in contention.

“He’s pushed me to be better and it’s fun to watch him. So, I’m really trying to catch him. I really owe a lot to him to some of my good golf of late.’’

Clark highlighted his day by coming home on his final nine holes _ which was the back nine since he started on No. 10 _ in 6-under-par 30.

“That’s pretty cool,’’ he said. “More than anything, I’m just super-excited that I kind of had a ho-hum front nine and then turned and really just got into a nice zone and felt really good on the greens and shot an awesome number.’’

Clark seems to have unlocked himself and his game to win with work he’s done with his mental game, bringing sports psychologist Julie Elion onto his team to work with him. Elion has worked with several golfers, including Phil Mickelson.

“My mental game was getting a lot better leading into Quail Hollow and I had a lot of good finishes,’’ Clark said. “I made 19 cuts in a row and had a chance to win a few times, but I wasn’t putting good.

“When I switched to the putter I’ve been using, that Jailbird, I started really seeing a lot of putts go in, and then all the work that I did off the course in my mental game I started seeing it on the course because I started making putts. So, that’s probably the biggest thing is a combining the mental game with making putts and now I’ve been shooting some good scores.’’

Two more good scores this weekend and Clark will have bagged yet another massive tournament to enhance his growing reputation as a big-game hunter.

Westchester’s Cam Young, who grew up playing Sleepy Hollow Country Club, where his father and coach, David, was the head pro for two decades, shot a 3-under 69 on Friday and is 5-under for the tournament.

Young is seeking his first PGA tour victory despite playing so well for the past two years. Young has played 58 tour events and has six runner-up finishes, two third-places, nine top-5s and 4 top-10s.

He has played in nine major championships since he turned pro and has a runner-up, a tie for third, a tie for seventh and a tie for eighth. Young has won more than $13 million on the PGA Tour and yet craves that first win more than any other dollar he might earn.

Leave a Comment