Collin Morikawa did something Sunday no golfer in history has achieved.
The 24-year-old Cal alum took charge with a run of three straight birdies to close out the front nine and never lost the lead on the way to winning The Open at Royal St. George’s Golf Club on Sunday.
Under 80-degree clear skies — the hottest day of the year at Sandwich, England — no one was hotter than Morikawa, who became the first player ever to win two major titles each on his first attempt.
Morikawa captured the PGA Championship a year ago and on Sunday claimed the 149th edition of the tournament we know as the British Open.
"I am so happy," he said. "This is by far one of the best moments of my life."
As he addressed the crowd after being awarded the Claret Jug and declared the "Championship Winner of the Year," Morikawa acknowledged, "It's giving me chills right now."
But he also took time to thank his caddie, JJ Jakovic, and when he told fans it was Jakovic's 39th birthday they responded by singing "Happy Birthday."
A week after finishing in 71st place at the Scottish Open, he fired a final-round 66 and completed his week’s work without a bogey on his final 31 holes. That was the third-longest bogey-free stretch in history to end a major by champion.
At the PGA at Harding Park in San Francisco, Morikawa avoided a bogey over his final 23 holes.
Morikawa's press conference after his victory:
He finished four days at Royal St. George's with rounds of 67, 64, 68 and 66 to become just the sixth player to shoot in the 60s at all four rounds of The Open.
Morikawa won the PGA with no fans on hand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Sunday, he smiled briefly while greeted by the roar of the crowd as he walked to the 18th green.
“These are some of the best fans I’ve ever seen," Morikawa said of the gathering of 32,000 fans, easily the biggest for a golf event since the onset of the pandemic.. "Just hearing cheers coming up to every single tee box was one of the best moments throughout the entire day.
"Those are the moments, the few seconds that you embrace so much," he said. "And you look around, every seat is packed. Everywhere is packed with people."
Morikawa's great shot on the eighth hole
He finished The Open with a 15-under par 265 to win by two strokes.
Ranked fourth int he world, Morikawa became just the second player in 95 years to win twice in his first eight career majors, joining Bobby Jones.
With his fifth career victory, Morikawa won an Open-record $2.07 million, pushing his career earnings to just under $14 million dollars in barely 25 months as a professional.
Morikawa survived a ferocious Sunday push by Jordan Spieth, who got within one stroke after a birdie on No.14, completing a stretch of eight holes where he played six under.
Morikawa's outstanding shot on No. 10
Morikawa converted a long birdie putt on No. 14 to stretch his lead back to two strokes. Then he hit into thick rough to the left of the green on his second shot at No. 15, but chipped out of trouble and made an eight-foot putt to save par and retain his two-stroke advantage.
It was in keeping with the perhaps the best putting performance of his career. Known as a superior irons player, Morikawa entered the week ranked 124th on the tour in putting average. But he was No. 1 in that category this week.
Asked about his ability to maintain his focus on the final day of a major, Morikawa said, “It was 100 percent. Execution was a little iffy. I knew there were going to be troubles. You’re gonna hit had shots.
"Sometimes I put them in the worst spots but I was able to get out of it and make some crucial putts. Yeah, my putting stats might not be up there but they came when I needed them.”
Spieth was unable to get any closer and could not secure his fourth career major title, finishing with a 66 and a four-day score of 13-under 267. He took home $1,198,000.
A Morikawa birdie putt on the 14th hole:
Morikawa entered Sunday at 11 under, one stroke back of South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen. Morikawa made par on his first six holes and pulled even when Oosthuizen bogeyed No. 4.
Things turned on holes 7, 8 and 9, with Morikawa making birdies on all three, including a 20-footer on No. 9 that got him to three-under 32 for the front nine.
Oosthuizen continued to struggle, finishing the first nine at 37 to fall four strokes back.
Meanwhile, Spieth was just beginning his charge. He made an eagle on the par-5 seventh hole (the eighth of the day on that hole), then peeled off birdies on Nos. 9, 10, 13 an 14 to pull within a stroke of the lead.
“I had to tell myself midway through the round when I started making birdies just to focus on each shot," Morikawa said. "I put myself in a good position with nine holes left, but there were still nine holes and I had to make shot after shot and try to pull it off.”
Oosthuizen shot a 71 on Sunday to finish in a tie for third at minus-11.
Tournament favorite and world No. 2 Jon Rahm, winner of the recent U.S. Open made four straight birdies through 16 on his way to a final-round 66 to finish tied with Oosthuizen at minus-11.
What's next for Morikawa? The Olympics in Tokyo, which begin on Friday.
Byeong Hun An, one of two other Cal golfers at The Open, shot a 67 on Sunday to finish at three-under and in a tie for 26th place. Max Homa closed with a 69 and wound up tied for 40th at minus-1.
Cover photo of Collin Morikawa by Peter van den Berg, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo