DETROIT – The PGA Tour appears on the verge of its first post-pandemic curveball.
In the fourth week since the Tour resumed action following a three-month break, the results have largely stuck to the script. Top-ranked players such as Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson have both picked up trophies. Even the odd man out, Daniel Berger at Colonial, is by no means an also-ran. He was an accomplished Tour winner riding a months-long streak of par-breakers before edging Collin Morikawa in a playoff.
But this week in Detroit, it looks like the fans that are watching at home in lieu of attending could finally be in for a bit of a surprise. Yes, Matthew Wolff is one of the game’s budding stars, and he broke through in a big way at the 3M Open last year for his maiden win. But there was little to suggest at the start of the week that the 21-year-old might still be around after the 36-hole cut, let alone in the driver’s seat heading into the final round.
Wolff had missed the cut each of the last two weeks, and he hadn’t cracked the top 50 since Torrey Pines in January. His last top-10 finish remains that victory in Minneapolis, when he jarred an eagle putt on the 72nd hole to win one of the most exciting events of 2019. But he has caught fire this week at Detroit Golf Club, making 24 birdies and an eagle through 54 holes while building a three-shot lead.
“Felt like the putter was really good today,” Wolff said. “Wasn’t really thinking about much over the putt, lining it up, feeling confident in the line and stroking it really nice. I think my irons were the biggest improvement from last week, just being able to control the distances and being able to give myself a lot more looks.”
Wolff made a big move in the second round on DGC’s closing stretch, playing Nos. 14-18 in 5 under en route to a 64. It was a similar story during the third round, where Wolff broke free from a crowded leaderboard with a 13-foot eagle on No. 14 followed by birdies on two of the next three holes. It led to another 64, as Wolff shot the day’s low score for the second day in a row.
He may not have the sheer bulk of Bryson DeChambeau, who sits in a tie for second at 16 under, but Wolff is hardly short. He’s averaging more than 321 yards per tee shot this week and boasts a potent combination through three rounds; he's fourth among the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green and second in strokes gained: putting. As a result, he’s in position to become the youngest player with two Tour titles since Tiger Woods in 1996.
“I’ve really got to give it to a lot of mindset,” Wolff said. “I feel like there was a lot of times in the past where I had good rounds and I let my head get in the way of, ‘I need to close this out, or I need to do something, I want to try to make more birdies coming in.’ And instead I would go the other way, whereas I’m taking it shot by shot, hole by hole and whatever happens, happens.”
That carefree attitude manifested itself Saturday afternoon, when Wolff became locked into the sounds of a nearby ice cream truck circling the neighborhood that lines the course. He credited it in a very sincere way after the round as a calming influence and a focal point as he poured in putt after putt.
Whatever the catalyst may be, the pieces have clearly come together for one of the game’s burgeoning talents. After a lean year followed breakthrough success, he appears once again poised to get his hands on another trophy and remind his peers that his potent game can awaken at a moment’s notice.
“It’s a golf course that sets up really well. I’m hitting it really well, putting good, doing everything well,” Wolff said. “Just going to go out there, have fun and hopefully I hear the ice cream truck a little bit.”