U.S. Open Preview: Can Collin Morikawa Win His 3rd Major?

The Cal grad, with top-5 finishes in both previous majors this season, is viewed as a challenger to World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler
Collin Morikawa
Collin Morikawa / Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA

Collin Morikawa enters this week’s 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina riding the momentum of a second-place finish last week at the Memorial at Muirfield Village.

He may have gotten an extra boost of confident from his play on the par-3 12th hole, where he was 3-under par for the week. The rest of the field managed just 26 birdies on the 12th — Morikawa had three by himself. There were 58 bogeys and 15 double bogeys or worse on the hole.

"That's ridiculous," Morikawa said of how well he played the hole. "I looked at my caddie and I was like, `I don't know if we're ever going to do that again.’ ”

The 27-year-old Cal grad hasn’t won on the PGA Tour yet this year but he is quietly assembling an impressive season. He is the only player with top-5 finishes in both majors — the Masters and the PGA — and he is positioned to pursue his first U.S. Open title.

Of course, red-hot Scottie Scheffler stands in everyone’s way. The world’s top-ranked player, Scheffler has won five tournaments this season, including the Masters.

Three former Golden Bears will play this week. Morikawa, who has ascended to No. 7 in the world rankings, is set to tee off Thursday at 4:40 a.m. PDT. No. 10 Max Homa goes off at 10:25 a.m. PDT and Byeong Hun An, ranked No. 23, will begin at 5:24 a.m. PDT.

Here’s how the three Cal entries are viewed by those covering the Open:

— GOLF DIGEST: Keith Stewart ranks all 156 players in the field and, like everyone else, has Scheffler at the top of his list. Here’s what he says about the three Golden Bears.

3. Collin Morikawa

Age: 27

Odds to win: 21-1.

OWGR: 8. Data Golf: 4.

Masters/PGA finish: T-3/T-4.

U.S. Open appearances: 5. Cuts made: 4.

Best U.S. Open finish: 4th (2021)

Comment: Only one player has finished top 5 in both majors this year: Collin Morikawa. On a sensational run of golf, his success has been fueled by his career bugaboo. Gaining an average of nine strokes total per start since the Masters, 2.5 of those strokes have been gains from around the green. The confidence in scrambling has permeated throughout other aspects, making him a complete contender. That textbook Morikawa fade will fit perfectly at Pinehurst along with his best-in-class long-iron acumen. I’m excited to see Collin come back. With two majors under belt, he has the résumé to return some intimidation down the stretch against the best in the world.

17. Max Homa

Age: 33

Odds to win: 46-1.

OWGR: 10. Data Golf: 17.

Masters/PGA finish: T3/T35.

U.S. Open appearances: 5. Cuts made: 1.

Best U.S. Open finish: 47th (2022)

Comment: I believe Max Homa’s still getting better in major championships. Fact is, Homa’s game is built for tough challenges. Max doesn’t make big mistakes so when the conditions are tough, he stays in contention. Six top-20 results in an off ball-striking season succinctly shows how good his short game and putting really are.

29. Byeong Hun “Ben” An

Age: 32

Odds to win: 120-1.

OWGR: 26. Data Golf: 24.

Masters/PGA finish: T16/T43.

U.S. Open appearances: 7. Cuts made: 3.

Best U.S. Open finish: 16th (2019)

Comment: Ben An looked excited last week at the Memorial. He was a study subject for me on the range, and I walked away impressed. An hits his long clubs like lasers. Where he lacks with the flatstick might just be mitigated by his ability on #2 to stay out of the wire grass.

— CBS SPORTS: Kyle Porter shares his top storylines for the U.S. Open.

2. The Forgotten Man: Nobody is talking about Collin Morikawa for this U.S. Open, but perhaps they should be. It's Morikawa -- not Scheffler, nor Xander Schauffele nor Rory McIlroy nor anyone else -- who has been in the final pairing on Sunday at both the Masters and the PGA Championship so far this year. In theory, the U.S. Open should be the major he plays the best, too. He has three consecutive top 15s, and the ball-striking has once again returned to Collin Morikawa levels of ball-striking. He is extremely live to win what would be his third major and claim three legs of the career grand slam by age 27 with just a Masters -- where he has three straight top 10s -- left to win.

— CBS SPORTS: Patrick McDonald includes two Cal alums among nine for whom fans should root.

7. Collin Morikawa: With a victory, Morikawa would head into Augusta National next season with a chance to put a bow on the career grand slam. There’s little reason to suggest he won’t give it a serious go as he is the only player to finish inside the top five in the first two majors of the year after being featured in the final group in both championships. A contender at Torrey Pines and the 36-hole leader at The Country Club, the 27-year-old is riding a wave of form not a championship tailor made for his game. Odds: 16-1

8. Max Homa: The pressure of a home game may have gotten to Homa year ago in Los Angeles, but he comes into this year’s tournament as a different major competitor. Casing top 10s at The Open and this year’s Masters, the 33-year-old proved to himself that his game can translate to the four biggest championships each season. It has yet to materialize in the U.S. Open where Homa has four missed cuts in five appearances, but a win this week would be among the most popular in years. Odds: 50-1

— NBC SPORTS: Brentley Romine isn’t giving much love to Homa in his ranking of all 156 players.

5. Collin Morikawa: Morikawa is back, entering this week with finishes of T-4, fourth, second. And he’s starting to improve on his approach play, back inside the top 70.

40. Byeong Hun An: An couldn’t take advantage of the momentum from back-to-back top-4s entering PGA, but his ranking third in driving distance this season won’t hurt him here.

57. Max Homa: Three straight starts without a top-20 for Homa, who is ranked outside the top 120 in strokes gained off the tee and approach proximity.


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Jeff Faraudo

JEFF FARAUDO

Jeff Faraudo was a sports writer for Bay Area daily newspapers since he was 17 years old, and was the Oakland Tribune's Cal beat writer for 24 years. He covered eight Final Fours, four NBA Finals and four Summer Olympics.