The binge has ended. May the hangover yield to a lengthy period of reflection.
After seven major championships in 11 months, pro golf’s big-game universe heads into hibernation on a historic note, featuring an unprecedented measure of symmetry unlike any we’ll see again. Collin Morikawa’s two-stroke triumph Sunday at the 149th British Open brought those 11 months to full-circle completion. Not only is he the first player ever to win a pair of majors in his debut appearance at the event, the 24-year-old Californian’s clutch performance at Royal St. George’s serves as a golden bookend to that PGA Championship he claimed in San Francisco last August.
Actually, the Claret Jug is made from 5½ pounds of silver, although this year’s recipient relied on a ton of guts more than anything to hold off 2017 champion Jordan Spieth and a charge from Jon Rahm, who won the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion last month. Morikawa recovered from poor approach shots at the 10th and 15th with stellar par saves from gnarly greenside rough. The second occurred after he navigated a testy hump to hole a 15-footer for birdie at the par-5 14th, and from there, it was clear sailing.
Too young? Not enough experience? Morikawa played bogey-free golf over the final 31 holes at Royal St. George’s—the longest such stretch ever compiled by an Open champion. His final total of 15-under included a second-round 64 and the closing 66, capping a week when his highly regarded iron play, at least until those late glitches, even surpassed the reputation preceding it.
“My execution was a little iffy, but I knew there was going to be some trouble, knew I would run into some tough spots,” Morikawa said. “My putting stats may not be the best, but I made the ones I had to make.”
No and yes. The champ needed just 111 putts over the 72 holes, better than anyone in the field, and that’s often the only number that matters when you rank fifth in greens in regulation. Having taken control of the tournament with birdies at the 7th, 8th and 9th, Morikawa was nothing less than unflappable as Spieth applied consistent pressure down the stretch. This provided a different competitive dimension than at the PGA, where Morikawa staged his own robust rally by chipping in for birdie with five holes to play, then grabbed the tournament by the throat when he drove the green at the par-4 16th and converted a seven-footer for eagle.
From behind or while protecting a lead, Morikawa clearly has asserted himself as the world’s best player under age 25, which isn’t to say he wasn’t before Royal St. George’s. His two major titles in eight starts betters the early-career heroics of Spieth, who won his second major on his 10th attempt. Jack Nicklaus became a multiple-major champ on his ninth try, Tiger Woods on his 18th, so the historic significance of Morikawa’s latest victory is as hard to replicate as it is easy to acknowledge.
“From inside 10 feet, it was as solid as it can get,” the champ said of his short putting, which has been commonly identified as the lone weakness he hadn’t overcome. “Especially at a major. I’m going to [examine] it tomorrow. It makes me wonder, why can’t I do this every week? In situations like this, I feel like everything [stats] gets thrown out the window.”
Kind of like the baby and the bathwater. In this, the COVID-created “Super Season,” Morikawa also becomes a lock for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors. His two major titles are supported by a third premium-field win at the WGC gathering in March, and while the FedEx Cup Playoffs still remain, the 2020-21 POY derby was all but settled on the warmest and sunniest of days in southeast England.
Speaking of sunshine, Spieth took another big step forward in his resurgence from a 3½-year skid when he struggled to hit fairways and plummeted to 92nd in the Official World Golf Ranking. At 13 under, Spieth’s aggregate 267 was the best score by a runner-up in British Open history. “I fought back hard,” he said. “It’s hard to be upset when you’re 2 over through 6. I couldn’t have really done much more after that point.”
Especially when someone in the group behind you is playing so well. That someone was Morikawa, not third-round leader Louis Oosthuizen, who could get nothing going and finished T-3 with Rahm (-11). Oosty’s Sunday at Royal St. George’s bore a striking similarity to his runner-up showing at the PGA in May. He failed to generate any momentum early and left excellent scoring chances short all afternoon, which prevented the South African from adding a seventh runner-up major finish to his portfolio.
The killer blow came at the par-5 7th, where Oosthuizen skulled a greenside bunker shot into sand on the opposite side of the putting surface, then found a brutal lie that led to a 40-footer for par. His only birdie all day came after he hit the flagstick at the par-3 11th, then shook in the leftover from four feet. By then, Morikawa had opened up a four-short advantage. Only Spieth would reappear in the rear-view mirror.
That said, this one was still a thriller, punctuated by a final round that started slowly but seemed to his its stride when Rahm almost holed out his second at the par-5 7th. Morikawa’s birdie string to finish the front side gave him the cushion he needed, but those two aforementioned par saves on the back kept his momentum and margin largely intact.
From Royal St. George’s, it’s on to Tokyo, where Morikawa will represent the U.S in the second Summer Olympics golf tournament. After that? Just a chance to grab another $15 million in FedEx Cup loot, then the Ryder Cup, then plenty of time to chill. The 2022 Masters is nine months away, and regardless of what the game’s brightest young star does between now and then, it has been quite a Super Season.
Morikawa clearly has the thirst. In addition to possession of the ultimate beverage container. “I’ll drink anything,” he said of a celebration involving the Claret Jug. “We’ve been staying at the hotel right by the course, and every night, I can see the caddies drink. I’m like, ‘Man, I really want to drink,’ but I hold back. I hold back on tournament week.”
May another hangover yield to a period of lengthy reflection.
More Final-Round British Open Coverage From Morning Read:
- 18 Parting Shots from the 149th British Open
- Best Photos From Sunday at Royal St. George's
- Collin Morikawa Rallies to Win 149th British Open for 2nd Career Major Title
- Jordan Spieth Regrets Early Mental Lapses After Runner-Up Finish
- Oosthuizen Fails to Close Another Major, Slumps Into Tie for Third
- Brooks Koepka Laments What Might've Been After Strong Finish
- Shane Lowry's Two-Year Reign as Open Champ Ends Respectfully
- Bryson DeChambeau Caps Humbling Week With Final-Round 65
- Final Purse, Payouts, Prize Money Breakdown for 2021 British Open
- How Henry Cotton Captivated England at 1934 Open at Royal St. George's