LOS ANGELES – At the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard there are two players each going for their first major title. That's about all they have in common.
Rickie Fowler has contended in majors, won nine tournaments across the globe and has long been one of golf's most recognizable players. Wyndham Clark is playing in only his seventh major and, no matter how he plays Sunday, this will mark the first time he's finished better than 75th.
“It's a little surreal to be in this situation,” Clark said.
In a way, the player one shot behind them, Rory McIlroy, feels the same. He is trying to break a nine-year drought without a major. He starts the day one shot behind the leaders. Does the fact he's won four of these, including the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, give him an edge?
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been such a long time since I’ve done it.”
McIlroy is paired with Scottie Scheffler, who trails the leaders by three. With a win, he would join Tiger Woods as the only other player to win the U.S. Open while ranked No. 1.
On Saturday, Scheffler holed out for an eagle from the 17th fairway, and followed that with a birdie to put a deep dent in what had been a seven-shot deficit. It was a remarkable stretch, especially considering this is the U.S. Open, a tournament traditionally won with par saves, not fireworks.
But Los Angeles Country Club is a different sort of U.S. Open venue. It has produced two record scores of 62, four nine-hole scores of 30 and one 29. It is getting mixed reviews from the players.
“I’m not a big fan of this golf course, to be honest,” Viktor Hovland said.
When the sun goes down Sunday, at least one player will love it.
Some things to watch for Sunday:
Back in 2014, Fowler finished in the top 5 in all four majors. He won The Players Championship a year later and moved as high as fourth in the rankings. Two years ago, he had fallen to No. 185.
He would be taking the lead by himself into the final round were it not for a three-putt bogey on No. 18. That, plus Clark's birdie on the same hole drew them into a tie heading into the last 18 holes.
“It really doesn’t matter," Fowler said of his late slip-up. "Having the lead, being one back, two back. You’re going to have to play good golf tomorrow.”
RORY’S BIG CHANCE
McIlroy hasn’t won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, which followed his British Open title at Hoylake that year. It was hard to imagine he would go some nine years without another.
McIlroy was tied for the 54-hole lead last summer at the British Open and he two-putted all 18 greens (16 pars, two birdies) for a 70 that allowed Cameron Smith to blow by him and capture the claret jug.
McIlroy hasn’t exactly shined the last two weeks when he had a chance to win. He was tied for the 54-hole lead at the Memorial and shot 75 to finish four back. And then last week in the Canadian Open, he was two shots behind going into Sunday and shot 72 to finish five back.
TRICKY NO. 6
The most excitement at LA Country Club comes on the par-4 sixth, which plays downhill at about 300 yards. Some players are choosing to go for the green, but that involves hitting a blind tee shot over a tree that blocks the view of the green and getting the ball to land on a putting surface that measures only about 12 paces across.
The green is surrounded by LACC's famous barranca — a sandy gully that runs across the course and is populated by ball-entangling grasses. A layup here gives these players a better chance at birdie. The hole ranks third-easiest through three rounds.
THE BIG FINISH
The front nine has two par 5s and has played nearly two shots easier than the back nine at LACC. Barring the exception — Scheffler’s eagle-birdie finish comes to mind — the final three holes are all about hanging on.
The closing three holes average 518 yards and all play as a par 4.
Scheffler, Fowler and Clark are all under for the week on that three-hole stretch. McIlroy has played them in 2-over par.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.