Wolff's redemption arc, the underdog who leads and 'The Machine' breaks down
Matthew Wolff hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during round three of the Shriners Children's Open.
It was a Saturday afternoon to remember for Matthew Wolff at the Shriners Children's Open.
He may be the latest to bloom into a full-fledged star out of the 2019 crop of young guns that included fellow Oklahoma State Cowboy Viktor Hovland and already-two-time-major-champion Collin Morikawa, but his ascendance also has the potential to be the most feel-good story of them all.
The freshening afternoon wind was no match for Wolff’s power as he notched his 11th round in the 60s in 11 tries at TPC Summerlin. If he can make it 12 in a row on Sunday and close the one-shot lead Adam Schenk holds for PGA Tour win No. 2, it may just be the accomplishment he needs to take the next step in his still-nascent career.
Wolff’s battles with his mental health are well-documented. After a roller coaster six months, as he put it Friday afternoon, his wise-beyond-his-years decision to take some time away from golf appears to finally be paying off in full. He finished T-17 last week at the Sanderson Farms Championship and has carried that momentum with him to Las Vegas this week.
The 22-year-old backed up a 64-67 start with a 65 in the third round, highlighted by a five-under back nine, which, when he finished, gave Wolff a share of the lead.
“I feel like really confident with where I'm at in my game, my putting, my chipping, every part of my game feels really solid so I'm excited for tomorrow,” Wolff said after the round.
It’s got to be easy to feel confident in your game at a place where you’ve only ever recorded competitive rounds in the 60s and sit one shot off the lead entering the final round.
Here are three more Day 3 takeaways from the Shriners Children’s Open.
The underdog who leads
If you’re looking for a model of consistency this week, look no further than Adam Schenk. He hasn’t hit every fairway, but he hits most greens, and man is he rolling the rock.
Schenk’s Saturday 66 was a bit different from some of his competitors in that he did some scoring on the front nine, which has played as the more difficult side with just one par 5. The back, on the other hand, has two par 5s and a driveable par 4, which many players were attacking with fairway woods in the third round.
Following four birdies on the outward nine, Schenk closed in style, making three birdies in four holes to close out his round and take a one-shot lead into the night.
This is Schenk’s first full-field 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, so you’d be forgiven for being wary of his chances on Sunday, but after a career without much tangible success—no wins in 118 previous starts and outside the top 200 in the World Ranking—he’s all in on himself this week.
“I haven't been in this situation a lot," Schenk said. "I started to play a lot better towards the end of last year, but just keep doing the same things I've been doing. You're going to have to shoot a low score [on Sunday]. I think the weather's going to be pretty scorable like it was today. Everyone's good enough to win out here, you just have to believe in yourself and not beat yourself, in a sense.”
Of course, closing with a three-under stretch in the final four holes isn’t just not beating yourself, but will be good enough to beat just about anybody, even on the PGA Tour. If Schenk keeps that putter hot—he’s gained 2.4 strokes on the field on the greens this week—we may see another first-time winner come Sunday evening.
Sam Burns lines up his putt on the 18th hole during round three of the Shriners Children's Open.
Burns eyes the elusive double
Winning on the PGA Tour ain’t easy. Schenk just told us that. Everybody knows that. For those into statistics, that would make winning in consecutive weeks even harder. Yet a Saturday 68—during which it seemed like no putts would drop—has left Sam Burns with a chance to do exactly that.
Four birdies in five holes in the middle of his round put him atop the leader board, but a rather forgetful one-over final seven holes, including a water ball on the par-5 16th, leaves Burns two shots back of his Saturday playing partner entering the final round.
Regardless of whether Burns goes on to win or not, the Shreveport, La., native has all but guaranteed himself a spot on the 2022 Presidents Cup team. Put simply, he’s been on fire recently. And though it may be a bit of a stretch to call him being left off the Ryder Cup team a “snub,” it’ll surely make playing for Team USA at Quail Hollow that much sweeter.
If there’s one silver lining for Burns, it’s that he barely missed any of the LSU football game … although it didn’t start so well for the Bayou Bengals. And let’s be honest, who among us hasn’t lost focus down the stretch of a round while trying to get in front of the TV for some college football?
Good news, Sam, the Saints game should be over right around your late afternoon tee time.
Sungjae Im stands on the 18th hole green during round three of the Shriners Children's Open.
“There’s a reason we call him ‘The Machine’ in the International Team room,” Trevor Immelman said as Sungjae Im blasted a fairway wood onto the green from 265 yards away on the par-5 ninth hole.
Turns out there’s more than one reason "The Machine" moniker sticks. First and foremost, Im plays almost every week on tour. More often than not, it seems, he finds himself in contention, as well. This week is no different, as Im’s Saturday 70 kept the 36-hole co-leader within striking distance of claiming his second PGA Tour win.
Of course, one doesn’t find himself in contention as often as Im does without great swing mechanics, which was the real reason Immelman and the International Presidents Cup team room have dubbed him ‘The Machine.’ Despite his slow-mo takeaway and silky-smooth transition, Im didn’t look so machine-like at times Saturday afternoon, carding four bogeys as the wind picked up late in the afternoon.
As a result, he didn’t have a ton of makeable birdie opportunities. After gaining 1.3 and 2.4 strokes on the greens in the first two rounds, respectively, Im lost more than a full stroke putting on Saturday.
Perhaps a Saturday night in Las Vegas and the forecasted wind change on Sunday will be enough to get "The Machine" recalibrated.