The American, who boasts just one previous win on the PGA Tour and has never made the cut in the tournament before, held off the challenge of Northern Ireland’s four-time major champion to win the 123rd edition of the major by a single stroke.
Clark, 29, carded a final-round even-par 70 to finish 10-under overall and earn a $3.6 million winner’s cut of a record $20 million prize purse, the largest ever awarded in major history.
And while the win fell on Father’s Day, Clark dedicated the win to her mother, Lise Clark, who died of breast cancer in 2013.
The Denver-born golfer had spoken at length about her inspiration earlier in the tournament, explaining how she had left him with the instruction to “play big”. Mission accomplished emphatically, Clark cried as he discussed her in his winning interview.
“I just felt like my mom was watching over me today and you know she can’t be here. Miss you mom,” an emotional Clark said.
“I’ve worked so hard and I’ve dreamed of this moment for so long. There have been so many times I’ve visualized being here in front of you and winning this championship.
“I just feel like it was my time.”
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An emotional Clark celebrates his victory.
For McIlroy, the 2011 US Open champion, the nine-year wait for a fifth major title continues. The 34-year-old has now finished in the top five at 10 majors since winning The Open and PGA Championship in 2014.
“When I finally win this next major, it will be really, really sweet,” McIlroy told reporters.
“I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”
An even longer wait continues Rickie Fowlerthere – after starting the final round in the lead with Clark – saw his dreams of an elusive first major disappear in a painful final-day slide.
The 34-year-old had made a historic start, shooting 62 to join American compatriot Xander Schauffele in to beat the record for the lowest single-round score ever shot at a US Open, but closed with a 75, the fourth-highest score in the final round, to drop to fifth.
Three times a runner-up, eight times in the top-10: The bittersweet mark of being one of the best golfers never to win a major remains firmly with the California fan favorite.
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McIlroy’s quest for a fifth major continues.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler was third, three shots behind Clark on seven under and one ahead of Australia’s Cameron Smith in fourth.
Tied for fifth with Fowler were Australia’s Min Woo Lee and England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who were inches away from equaling Fowler and Schauffele’s historic record after a dazzling final round.
Fleetwood shot two eagles and four birdies to soar 32 places up the leaderboard, but saw his closing seven-foot birdie effort roll agonizingly wide to finish at 63.
Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick finished 17th at one under overall, as did last month’s PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.
The fourth and final men’s major of the year, The Open Championship, gets underway at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on July 20.
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Fowler walks the sixth hole.
After an agonizing bogey finish to his third round, any hopes Fowler had of wiping the board clean were quickly dashed. The world No.45 got off to a nightmare start as his first share of a 54-hole major lead disappeared, a string of errant tee shots compounding two bogeys across his first six holes.
Again, Clark hit big, rattling off three quick birdies on the same stretch. Trailing Fowler by two strokes after 53 holes, at the end of the 60th he led his playing partner by three.
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Fowler endured a grueling final round.
Unfortunately for Clark, though, McIlroy showed the kind of composure in the final round that befits his glittering resume. The Northern Irishman was hardly setting the North Course alight, birdieing just once at the turn and wasting an easy birdie opportunity at the eighth, but only one bogey in his previous 23 holes kept him within striking distance.
As Fowler continued to tumble, a two-horse race was shaping up and there could be no doubting who had the pedigree. Heading into the week, McIlroy had twice as many major titles as Clark had made major cuts – yet the world No 32 looked to be hitting flawlessly amid uncharted waters.
Then disaster struck. Finding himself in an awkward position among the fescues next to the eighth green, Clark swung and looked up to track a sailing ball that never materialized. To the American’s visible horror, his ball remained buried in the long grass.
It was the kind of nightmarish moment that has ended the big dreams of players far more decorated than Clark, recalling the failed bunker run that dashed Viktor Hovland’s dreams at the PGA Championship last month, but Clark responded admirably. A brilliantly executed effort on the next attempt left him with a simple putt for a bogey six.
When Clark made the turn, he led McIlroy by one stroke.
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McIlroy put pressure on Clark throughout.
The prospect of a one-on-one shootout was soon all but confirmed as Fowler made back-to-back bogeys to sink two under eight-under overall, the score he had after just 18 holes in the tournament.
Drama ensued on McIlroy’s 14th hole when his approach, caught by the wind, sank into the face of a bunker. The Northern Irishman dropped to his knees in agony but was given a boost when the rules judged his ball broke the surface and gave him a drop in the rough in front of the bunker.
It was a short-lived relief, however, as his subsequent nine-foot putt for par rolled wide. At long last, McIlroy bogeyed and Clark punished him, promptly birdying the same hole to take a three-shot cushion into the final five holes.
But the first sign of nerves soon followed for Clark. When the aggressive McIlroy applied immediate pressure with a birdie at the 16th, the American made back-to-back bogeys. Suddenly the lead was back to just one.
Clark steadied the ship with a par to take a one-shot advantage with him on his walk to the par-four 18th tee. Up front, McIlroy’s long-range birdie effort rolled narrowly wide, bringing the American level with the US Open title.
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People spill out onto the 18th fairway to watch the closing stages.
On the green in two, hundreds of fans poured onto the fairway to follow Clark on what must have felt like the longest drive of his life. Clark hit his approach to within a foot and allowed himself a fist pump before going over and converting for the championship.
After a long embrace with caddy John Ellis, a overcome Clark held his cap to his face before looking skyward.
Played really big.