Collin Morikawa wins PGA Championship, delivering moments of magic

By Brian Murphy

In a sports year upended by the coronavirus pandemic, championship moments have been long awaited, and Collin Morikawa created an extraordinary one Sunday at the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

A 23-year-old native Californian, Morikawa etched his name on the Wanamaker Trophy with a final-round 6-under-par 64 in only his second appearance at a major championship. He became the third-youngest winner of the PGA Championship since it became a stroke-play event in 1958. Only Jack Nicklaus in 1963 and Rory McIlroy in 2012 were younger.

“I’m so excited, but it feels like this is where I’m supposed to be,” said Morikawa, who was a four-time All-American at the nearby University of California, Berkeley. He turned professional just last year.

Morikawa’s play down the stretch Sunday suggested a maturity that could not be measured in years.

This PGA Championship will be remembered for many things — its status as the first major to be played after the pandemic shut down the sport for almost three months, the absence of fans, the quiet on the course.

But from a purely golf perspective, it will be remembered as the place where Morikawa hit the shot of dreams — driving his ball from the tee to 7 feet from the hole at the 294-yard, par-4 16th. Then he converted an eagle putt to break a tie with Paul Casey. One could only imagine how a Sunday gallery would have reacted.

Morikawa later recounted the conversation at the 16th tee box, where his caddie, J.J. Jakovac, asked what club he wanted. “I said: ‘Let’s hit driver. This is perfect.’”

“That’s when you have to capitalize,” he added.

The tournament at Harding, an unpretentious municipal course on the foggy southwestern edge of San Francisco, was supposed to be held in early May, four weeks after the Masters, the traditional opening major for the men’s tour. The Masters is now scheduled for mid-November at Augusta National, and the U.S. Open at Winged Foot has been moved from June to mid-September. The British Open, the only men’s major held outside the United States, has been canceled for the first time since World War II.

Morikawa went into the final round two shots off the lead, then finished at 13 under, two shots ahead of the runners-up, Casey and Dustin Johnson. He now has three victories overall in his brief time on the PGA Tour.

“It’s amazing,” Morikawa said after receiving the trophy on the 18th green.

“To close it out in San Francisco,” he added, “which is pretty much my second home, where I spent the last four years, is pretty special.”

Morikawa broke out of a tangled pack on the back nine, which at one point featured a seven-way tie at 10 under.

The mass of contenders included a blend of veterans like Casey, 43, and Johnson, 36, and a blast of the sport’s new wave. Matthew Wolff, 21, posted a 65 in the final round, and Scottie Scheffler, 24, was in the hunt until the end. They finished tied for fourth.

Surprisingly, the two-time defending champion, Brooks Koepka, who made confident proclamations Saturday night, tumbled off the leaderboard with a 4-over 74 Sunday.

It was Morikawa’s time.

First, though, there was adversity.

His approach on the par-4 No. 14, from the fairway, came up a disappointing 15 yards short. It was then that Morikawa displayed the sang-froid and the soft hands that have characterized the brilliant start to his career.

He coolly lofted a clean chip from the fairway that rolled into the cup for a birdie.

A nearby pack of volunteers cheered, apparently feeling obliged to punctuate the silence for such a moment.

Morikawa had the lead.

The drivable No. 16 loomed in the fog as the possible tipping point for the packed leaderboard. A handful of eagles by players earlier in the day loaded the hole with portent, and Casey made birdie there to tie Morikawa at 11 under.

It all set up Morikawa’s swing on the 16th tee box. He eyed the line and remembered a similar drive he hit at Muirfield Village in Ohio in his victory at the Workday Charity Open last month.

“It fit my eye,” he said.

He unleashed the driver on an aggressive line. There would be no layup.

Morikawa’s bold play cut slightly toward the target, cleared a dangerous pack of cypress trees guarding the green and landed softly, rolling to a stop 7 feet away. The shot instantly had the sheen of legend.

“We were hoping for a good bounce, and we got one,” Morikawa said.

Practicing on the range in case of a playoff, Casey could only marvel.

“What a shot he hit on 16,” said Casey, who shot a final-round 66. “Just awesome golf. There’s nothing you can do except tip your cap. Collin took on the challenge. That’s what champions do.”

To complete the script, Morikawa calmly rolled in the eagle putt for a two-stroke lead. Pars on Nos. 17 and 18 closed the deal.

A smiling Morikawa walked through a rope line of tournament volunteers, who cheered the new champion.

Part of Harding Park’s appeal has been its illustrious roster of champions. Tiger Woods, who finished tied for 37th over the weekend at 1 under for the tournament, won the 2005 World Golf Championships-America Express Championship at Harding, and McIlroy won the WGC-Match Play in 2015. Also in the 20th century, the PGA Tour stop at Harding produced titles for the Hall of Famers Byron Nelson, Gary Player and Ken Venturi.

Add Morikawa to the list.

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