'A touch of Tiger' – How remarkable Morikawa reminded fans of Woods in his prime

'A touch of Tiger' – How remarkable Morikawa reminded fans of Woods in his prime

He has certainly found his Collin in life. In a 149th Open Championship delayed for a year due to the pandemic, Collin Morikawa’s sumptuous display of maturity at Sandwich on Sunday was well worth waiting for.

For a figure who only turned professional in 2019, the remarkable Morikawa sketched out a unique slice of golfing folklore that is unlikely to be altered in decades to come with his Open victory parade at Royal St George’s astonishingly coming 11 months after he carried off the US PGA Championship around Harding Park in San Francisco.

No other man has won two major titles on their respective debuts at these events. No other man probably ever will.

The Open

Magical Morikawa creates golf history with dominant Open victory

YESTERDAY AT 17:46

Most golfers achieve their lifetime ambition by winning one of these huge garlands. Morikawa has two to his name in only eight starts. He is standing on the shoulders of giants: only fellow US icons Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen have doubled up at majors in quicker time.

In the others he has had a go at this year, he tied for 18th at the Masters and tied fourth at the US Open. Of three elite tournaments won, two are majors. These are stats you would be content to hang your career on, far less a season.

Morikawa is only 24 and a golfer who delayed turning professional to pursue a business degree at Berkeley in California. While he was studying his books, he was beating up the competition, finishing as the top ranked amateur in the world in May 2018.

He has brains and balls as he illustrated by conjuring up a strategy of mental adroitness and toughness on a par-70 track that was not meant to be slain by length.

The engaging but eccentrically booming Bryson Dechambeau finished on minus two after apologising to a club manufacturer when discontentment with his driver should have been the least of his concerns.

Even in the blooming English summer sun without whistling winds or rain, it was a thinking man’s course won by a thinking man as a closing round of 66 – supported by four birdies and 14 reassuring cast-iron pars on the final day – saw him comfortably fend off Jordan Spieth by two strokes on 15 under.

In his first competition as a professional, Morikawa tied for 14th place at the Canadian Open in June 2019. All roads hinted at a fruitful golf career, but not even he could have expected such startling returns when you consider Tiger Woods claimed the second major of his 15 at the 18th attempt, two years after his first.

Collin Morikawa and Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines.

Image credit: Eurosport

It is the stuff of legend right here, right now in world sport. Coming after Phil Mickelson raised the bar about what golfers can achieve beyond 50 by beating a path to the US PGA Championship as the oldest winner in major history at Kiawah Island in May, it has been quite the season in golf.

Certainly, the future is looking as bright as Sandwich’s weather with dedicated figures like Morikawa carrying forth this bewitching, ancient sport. Here is a bloke who will encourage kids to pick up a club, to invest their time and effort in honing such gilded skills. Morikawa has it all and more, right down to the maturely youthful, courteous way he addresses fans, sponsors and the media.

He is a marketing man’s dream, giving gratitude to the paying public for taking time and an element of risk to watch golf during such uncertain times for society. He sounds and plays very much like Woods, recovering from a car crash in February, in his major-winning pomp.

“This is by far one of the best moments of my life,” he said after rising to the ranking of world number three.

“To see everyone out here, look at all these fans. You guys have been amazing.

I’m obviously very biased, being from the US, but to see some of the best crowds I have ever seen out here, I’ll look forward to making my trip every year to The Open to see you guys cheering us on.

“I wouldn’t be here without my family, my friends, my brother, my girlfriend. They weren’t able to make the trip, normally they make the trip to majors, but I know they have been waking up early to watch me play.

“I can feel the love and I hope I get to see them all really soon.”

Fittingly, Morikawa unearthed a regal exhibition of ball striking at Royal St George’s measured by distance that felt risk-free under the most intense pressure in the unforgiving Kent sunshine. He hits a six-iron like the competition manage their pitching wedges with a languid swing that seems to make time stand still.

For a man from Las Vegas, it was like taking on the house knowing you were holding a royal flush while the competition was a busted flush. The margins are punishingly thin at such levels.

The seemingly cursed Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa made off with the Open in 2010, but has become golf’s nearly man over the past decade. He has finished runner-up six times at the majors and this is another one that got away in the death throes.

He held the lead for the first three days and by one stroke from Morikawa after 54 holes on 12 under at dusk on Saturday, but a few wayward shots burned his hopes in the heat, particularly on the par-five seventh as a bogey coincided with a birdie by the champion.

He signed for a 71 to join a rampaging US Open champion Jon Rahm in a share of third place, four shots short of the winning line.

Of course, there are also signals from yesteryear about the dangers of proclaiming a new era of dominance in golf.

The meticulous Spieth produced a terrific display to finish second with a closing 66, but has emerged from the shadows. He had gone four years without a tournament win since claiming the Open in 2017 at Royal Birkdale before he triumphed in his native Texas in April.

Rory McIlroy will begin an eighth year searching for a fifth major next season with the last of his four victories at the US PGA Championship in 2014.

One does need to be far off in golf to be miles away with McIlroy bemused by the mistakes that continue to undermine his hopes in premium events as he ended on level par, tied for 46th place.

Much of Morikawa’s play resembled Tiger in his prime such was the deliberate way he picked apart the championship course. He gave off that feeling of superiority, almost like he was performing a different sport from the field. Like he had it all in hand while others fussed and flustered.

Collin Morikawa holds the Claret Jug.

Image credit: Eurosport

In US PGA Tour stats, he is first in greens in regulation and first in birdie average, two key metrics behind his success story.

If you give yourself the most chances of birdies at tournaments, all you need is for the putter to work. Which it did on Sunday.

Only Morikawa and Woods have lifted the US PGA Championship and Open before the age of 25.

These is more, much, much more to come from Morikawa. Imminently, and probably worryingly, for Europe in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in September.

“Always great believer in importance of preparation going into majors, and preparation in those kinds of conditions is essential to winning,” said the record 18-times major champion Jack Nicklaus.

“If you want to win, that’s what you’ve got to do. Collin Morikawa did it, and Barbara & I send sincere congrats to an impressive young man!”

While his US PGA Championship victory was played behind closed doors, the Open was watched by 128,000 over four days. Like Woods, Morikawa is at one with himself in the spotlight, under the glare of the whooping and the hollering when the majority were rooting for Louis.

He is not playing to win popularity contests, but that will naturally increase with time.

In the first flush of youth, Morikawa is a formidable talent who doesn’t appear to care for second place. Nor accepted wisdom.

Desmond Kane

The Open leaderboard

  • -15: Morikawa (66)
  • -13: Spieth (66)
  • -11: Rahm (66), Oosthuizen (71)
For the latest news and sharpest analysis on golf, visit GolfDigest.com

The Open

What time do the leaders play on Sunday? Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth tee times

YESTERDAY AT 06:48

The Open

Oosthuizen battles to maintain lead as Spieth rocked by late drama

17/07/2021 AT 19:10