Collin Morikawa, 23, wins PGA Championship in second career major

The best shot of his life, the shot that made Collin Morikawa a major champion, was never supposed to happen. He knew the tee on the 16th at Harding Park would be moved forward at the PGA Championship. During practice rounds that would not tempt him to go for the green. But this was Sunday afternoon, right after he had chipped in for birdie to break out of a seven-way tie and at this moment was tied again with Paul Casey.

Collin Morikawa knew he had to hit a good one. The shot will be remembered as one of the best in a major that hardly anyone witnessed, not with spectators banned for majors during the covid era. He hit driver on the 294-yard hole that was perfect in flight and even better when it landed, hopping onto the green and rolling to 7 feet for an eagle that all but clinched victory on a mostly quiet, chilly afternoon at Harding Park.

In the first major without spectators, Collin Morikawa finished with a bang. The chip-in for birdie and the tee shot for eagle added to a 6-under 64 and the best closing round by a PGA champion in 25 years, and a two-shot victory over Casey and Dustin Johnson. The only regret was the lack of a roar this shot deserved. He had no idea how good it was until he got closer to the green.

This is one time Collin Morikawa really wished there were crowds.

Collin Morikawa was just praying for a straight bounce. And then after it bounced, it kind of got behind a tree that he could not see around the corner. So once it bounced, he will take it anywhere. He peeked around right and looked around the tree, and it looked really, really good. The PGA Championship, which was moved from May to August because of the covid pandemic, was allowed to be played only if spectators were not allowed.

But there was one person who will not forget what he saw. Casey, with his first good shot at winning a major, birdied the 16th to tie Collin Morikawa for the lead. Standing on the tee at the par-3 17th, Casey looked back and saw the ball roll toward the cup. What a shot, nothing you can do but tip your cap to that. He had taken on that challenge and pulled it off, that is what champions do.

Collin Morikawa was still in the vicinity of Harding Park just over a year ago, finishing up his degree at California and his All-American career, part of a new cast of young stars in a sport filled with them. He played Harding Park only about a dozen times while in college, but he never set up with rough like this or with the tees all the way back. Now he has three PGA Tour victories and is No. 5 in the world, taking his place among the young stars by beating a cast of world-class players on the public course in San Francisco.

Those are moments Collin Morikawa is always going to remember.

For Johnson, it was another major that got away. Johnson had a one-shot lead and did not do too much wrong on the day except for not keeping it in the fairway for better chances of birdie. Johnson drove into the hazard on the 16th and chipped in for birdie when it was too late, and a birdie on the 18th gave him a tie for second. It was Johnson’s fifth runner-up finish in a major, his only title is the 2016 United States Open, and his second is straight runner-up in the PGA Championship.

Brooks Koepka proved to be all talk. Koepka looked at the crowded leaderboard on Saturday night and did not see anyone with his experience of four major championships, even dishing on Johnson because he has “only won one”. Koepka did not make a birdie until the 12th hole. Koepka went from two shots behind to a 74, tying for 29th.

It was Koepka’s first bad round in a major in a while. Youth rules these days. Collin Morikawa finished at 13-under 267 and left so many others wondering how close they came. Matthew Wolff, who grew up with him in Southern California and turned pro last summer with him, shot a 65 and joined Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, and PGA Tour rookie Scottie Scheffler at 10-under 270.

Cameron Champ, among eight players who had a share of the lead at some point, lost momentum with a double bogey at the turn.

DeChambeau dropped two shots at the turn and never caught up until it was too late. Collin Morikawa, in only his 28th start as a pro and his second major, played bogey-free. His only mistake was at the end, when it was time to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy, the heaviest of the four major trophies. The lid came off and tumbled to the grass as his eyes bulged.

If that was his only mistake, consider it a successful day. A major success.

Leave a Reply