In a year of firsts in the majors, Collin Morikawa might have topped them all.
His performance over four days at the British Open was unlike anything seen at Royal St. George’s, even in such ideal weather for the English coast.
In his first real test of links golf, Morikawa didn’t make a bogey over his final 31 holes, blowing past mistake-prone Louis Oosthuizen and never flinching as Jordan Spieth made one last charge late Sunday afternoon.
Morikawa made three straight birdies at the turn to build a four-shot lead. He made a 20-foot birdie on the 14th when Spieth had closed to within one. He saved par with a 10-foot putt on the next hole for breathing room.
He played with the confidence of a major champion, which he is from his PGA Championship title last year. He showed the experience of a veteran. That part is up for debate.
“When you make history — and I’m 24 years old — it’s hard to grasp,” Morikawa said.
The silver claret jug in his possession as he stood on the 18th green, Morikawa first paid tribute to Matthias Schmid of Germany, who won the silver medal as low amateur.
“It feels like literally two years ago I was an amateur,” Morikawa told him.
That is entirely literal.
Two years ago, the ink was barely dry on his diploma from Cal. In the eight majors Morikawa has played since then, he has won two of them. The last player to win two professional majors in so few attempts was Bobby Jones nearly a century ago.
“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,” he said. “I enjoy these moments and I love it, and I want to teach myself to embrace it a little more.”
The major season began with Hideki Matsuyama becoming the first Japanese player to win the Masters. Phil Mickelson became the first player at age 50 to win a major at the PGA Championship. No one had ever birdied the last two holes at the U.S. Open to win by one shot until Jon Rahm at Torrey Pines.
And then along came Morikawa, as pure an iron player as there is in the game today, making his own brand of history. He is the first to win two majors that he played for the first time.
Just under a year ago in his first time playing the only major restricted to pros, he won the PGA Championship at Harding Park by boldly hitting driver on the 16th hole for a 7-foot eagle. And then he won the British Open in his debut with a 4-under 66 to finish at 265, the second-lowest score in the history of golf’s oldest major.
“He’s got the potential and the game, and the head, to be able to manage any kind of bumps in the road,” Spieth said.
Spieth knows all about bumps. When he won the Open at Royal Birkdale in 2017, he had three legs of the career Grand Slam at age 23. And then he didn’t win again for nearly four years, having to rebuild his swing and his confidence.
It’s not all the way back, but it’s close. Spieth will think back to the bogey-bogey finish on Saturday when he was in position to make birdie on both holes that kept him out of the final group and kept him chasing.
He played the final 12 holes in 6 under. It looked like it might be enough, except that he needed a little help from Morikawa.
“I needed a break, and I didn’t get it from him,” Spieth said.
Oosthuizen provided plenty of them to Morikawa, notably the par-5 seventh hole, the easiest of the final round. With an iron from the fairway for his second shot, Oosthuizen went bunker-to-bunker and made bogey, going from a tie for the lead to two shots behind when Morikawa made birdie.
Morikawa birdied the next two holes and he was on his way.
There were cheers from 30,000-plus fans for Rahm running off four straight birdies in a late bid, for Spieth making four birdies in a six-hole stretch.
That’s what Morikawa didn’t face at Harding Park, the first major with no spectators. Would that have made a difference?
Morikawa played 20 tournaments worldwide with no spectators, and then only limited spectators since March. The British Open had the largest gallery since the return of golf from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Then you step into 35,000 and holding a lead down the stretch,” Spieth said. “He spent a year, year-and-a-half in essentially a crowd-less environment. And it’s harder. It’s harder with big crowds. You feel it more. You know where you are. It’s a bigger stage.
“I think that’s impressive.”
Oosthuizen, meanwhile, ended a tough year in the majors. He was runner-up in the previous two majors, and his closing 71 gave him a tie for third with Rahm. He left without speaking to the media, offering a tweet to salute the fans and congratulate Morikawa for class and grit.
Morikawa moved to No. 3 in the world. In his 52 individual event worldwide since he turned pro, his five victories include two majors and a World Golf Championship. He is leading the points list on the PGA Tour and European Tour. He is atop the Ryder Cup standings.
His status is better defined by the company he now keeps.
In the last century of golf, only seven other players have won two majors before turning 25 — Spieth, Jones, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Next up for Morikawa is Japan for the Olympics, a chance to go from a silver jug to a gold medal. He has never played in the Olympics, as if that matters.
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