Collin Morikawa is the first-timer who simply loves firsts, the virgin soldier who thinks nothing of being the last man standing on the battlefield. No player has ever before won two different majors on their debuts before, but then no major debutant has ever looked so nerveless before.
The 24-year-old was impervious in lifting the Claret Jug, overhauling 54-hole leader Louis Oosthuizen, before resisting the seemingly irresistible challenge of Jordan Spieth. With a bogeyless 66 for a 15-under total and a two-shot victory, Morikawa was unbreakable, unmatchable and unbelievable, adding the Open Championship to the US PGA he collected last year.
Royal St George’s witnessed history on a beautiful Sunday. Granted, the links purists were no doubt begging for a stiff wind to make this a proper seaside test, but Morikawa could only play what was in front of him and he did so magnificently. If anyone is any doubt about the class of this Californian then consider that he only turned pro in June 2019 and this was only his eight major – and only Bobby Jones has won two quicker.
And these are the players aged 24 or less who have won the Open in the last 100 years: Jones, Peter Thomson, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth. That is some list, but Morikawa fits in effortlessly. He is already considered one of the great iron players of all time, but, in truth, all aspects of Morikawa’s game were firing here on the south coast.
Except it was his composure that most impressed. Starting one behind Oosthuizen – the South African who was attempting to go wire-to-wire and so end his run of six major runners-up – Morikawa coolly hunted him down, birdieing the seventh to move ahead.
It was the first time that Oosthuizen, 38, had not led or shared the lead since the 12th on Friday and he was doomed never to recover eventually finishing in tie third on 11-under after a 71 alongside the fast-finishing Spaniard Jon Rahm, who played the back nine in four-under to fire a 66.
The back nine became all about Morikawa and Spieth, two young Americans who will surely have many showdowns over the forthcoming years. This first one was a veritable cracker.
Spieth looked flat over his first seven holes, apparently still feeling the effects of the two-footer he yanked on the 18th green on Saturday evening. Yet with a 15-footer for eagle on the seventh, he burst back into the reckoning. From there he picked up the pace in that deliciously fidgety style of his, birdieing the ninth, the 10th, the 13th and the 14th.
Credit to the 2017 champion, because Sandwich had been in danger of observing little but a procession over that closing nine. Instead, it had a drama on which to feast. Morikawa, however, refused to play the fall guy.
Each time as Spieth dared to breathe down his neck, so he calmly pulled away again. Morikawa had awarded himself a cushion with three birdies in a row from the seventh and then it became a case of trusting his short-game to keep the chaser at bay.
On the 10th, he was odds-on to bogey, but made a par save from behind the green. Spieth was within one when making a four on the par-five 14th, but then Morikawa reached the same green and holed an 18-footer for his own birdie.
On the 15th, Morikawa uncharacteristically pushed his approach into thick rough. No matter. He chopped it out to eight feet and once again converted. Spieth had no more to give and by then was relying on Morikawa mistakes. They never arrived. In contrast, Morikawa became stronger, almost birdieing the 18th.
There was a brief hug for his caddie, Jonathan Jakovac, but this success was marked in certainty, not euphoria. Morikawa is two years out of college but halfway to the career grand slam and, after this, who will be brave enough to declare he will not become the dominant performer of his generation?
On 13-under, Spieth had to take consolation in second, his best placing in a major since Royal Birkdale four years ago. There can be no question that following his slump, Spieth is returning to his peak. The major stages are so much grander for his presence.
Bob MacIntyre was the leading UK player in a tie for eighth. The 24-year-old tied for sixth at Royal Portrush two years ago and following this 65-67 weekend for a seven-under total, he looks an Open champion in waiting. He was the only Scottish representative in the field, but he made his country proud. It if fair to say they have been waiting for this fearless man from Oban.
Alas, it was a wretched tournament for England. The nation came in hoping for an English winner on English soil for the first time in 52 years. In the event, there was not even an Englishman in the top 10. This was the first time this had happened in seven years and just the second time in 13 years.
Paul Casey was top-places in a tie for 16th on five-under after a 70, with Aaron Rai in a tie for 19th on four-under following a 69 and Ian Poulter (68), Matt Fitzpatrick (70) and Andy Sullivan (73) in a group tying for 26th on three-under. Next year at St Andrews will be 30 years since Sir Nick Faldo won England’s last Claret Jug at Muirfield. “It’ll be all that 30 years of hurt, won’t it?” Poulter said. “Don’t ask me for any explanations, because I don’t have any.”
In a tie for 59th came 48-year-old Lee Westwood, setting a new record of playing in the most majors (88) without winning. “Opens are just hard to win, but we have a lot of good, young English players and they just have to keep knocking on the door,” Westwood said. “They have either got to persevere like I have or give up and find something else that pays them millions.”
Morikawa eyes more major memories after ‘special week’
By James Corrigan
Collin Morikawa maintains that he is “ no student of golf’s past ”, but even he was forced to recognise how “special” his Open Championship glory was here.
Not only is the 24-year-old the first player to win two different majors on his debuts, but this was only his second outing on a links course, having finished 71st in the previous week’s Scottish Open.
“I tell everyone I’m not the biggest history guy, but when you do make history it’s hard to grasp and it’s hard to really take it in,” Morikawa said. “At 24 years old, it’s so hard to look back at the two short years that I have been a pro and see what I’ve done because I want more.
“I want to make memories for myself and to be holding the Claret Jug is one of the greatest memories in my lifetime, Everything about this entire week has been very special.”
If Morikawa putts like this everyone else should simply go home. Ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in overall putting average, Morikawa ranked first here. “Yeah, my putting stats might not be up there,” he said. “But they came in a moment when I needed them. So I’m happy.
“I’ve had belief in myself since I turned professional I could do it. Coming into these tournaments and courses I’ve never played I do my work Monday through Wednesday.
“The Scottish Open last week was a huge learning experience for me. I put it all together, and thankfully it all paid off this week.”
It paid off to the tune of £1.6 million and saw him rise to world No 3 (with Jon Rahm leapfrogging Dustin Johnson to world No 1 courtesy of his tie for third?. And runner-up Jordan Spieth sounded certain that his young countryman has more to come.
“Clearly, with the shots he’s hit and the putts he’s holed, he’s not afraid of high-pressure situations,” Spieth said. “Winning one major can happen to a lot of people playing really good golf in one week. Winning two, three or more? Collin has obviously proven that this stage is where he wants to be.”
Spieth was still rueing his back-to-back bogeys with which he finished Saturday’s round, especially the two-footer on the 18th.
“The finish yesterday was about as upset as I’ve been with a finish to a round,” he said “I walked in and said ‘Is there something that I can break?’. I knew that was so important because I would have been in the final group. I’m upset because I really felt like I played well enough to win and made a couple of really dumb mistakes.”