There have been few shots in the history of golf to be struck as late in the deciding round of a major championship and be so clutch as the 292-yard drive Collin Morikawa hit to seven feet on the 70th hole of the PGA Championship Sunday en route to victory.
The drive on the 16th hole, a drivable par-4, gave Morikawa a short eagle putt, which he sank to take the lead for good, ultimately beating Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson by two strokes.
“It was a split between hitting iron and going for it. Why not hit a great driver?” Morikawa said. “I just needed that one bounce to go forward, and it did, and those are shots that you’ve got to take opportunities, and that’s what really separated me.”
He stood on the 16th tee tied after previously taking the solo lead at the 14th with another clutch shot, a chip-in from 18 yards for birdie.
“It was one of those chips where I stepped over it, and I was like this is going in,” Morikawa said. “This chip just feels like it’s going to go in, and actually when I hit it, I didn’t think it was going to go in. I almost started stepping forward because I thought it was going to be a little short right, and you know, you just get a couple extra rolls and there you go, you’re making birdie.”
In winning his first major, Morikawa proved he could pull off the key shots under pressure on golf’s biggest stage, and gave the game of golf its latest new, young star. He joins the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as 23-year-old PGA champions, just over a year removed from the end of his college career at Cal, only 16 miles from the site of his triumph at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park.
The strong play in the stretch run showed Morikawa’s ease in competing in a major, despite the event being just his second start in a major, and his first as a professional.
“This is where I feel very comfortable,” Morikawa said. “This is where I want to be, and I’m not scared from it. I think if I was scared from it, the last few holes would have been a little different, but you want to be in this position.”
Perhaps that comfort was helped by the success Morikawa has had, as Sunday’s win mirrored his two previous PGA Tour wins, each earned over the last 53 weeks.
His first was earned at the Barracuda Championship in late July of 2019 — his sixth PGA Tour start — by making birdie on four of the last five holes.
Then, against a stronger field on a major-championship-caliber venue at Muirfield Village, he won the Workday Charity Open four weeks ago with a Sunday performance that included a pair of clutch shots: another pinpoint drive on the par-4 14th that led to a late eagle, then a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to stay alive after Justin Thomas had sank his birdie from nearly 60 feet.
“(Sunday) I counted back from 14 at Muirfield,” Morikawa said. “What’s different from 14 at Muirfield and this shot, similar numbers, wind was a little left, kind of into me, but I knew I had to hit a good one. And stepped up, you know, and those are moments I’m always going to remember.”
The ability to make these kinds of shots in big moments in a professional golf tournament is practically priceless for a player on the PGA Tour, and bodes well for him into the future as he figures to put himself in position to win a lot more.
That’s not to say he’s won every time he contended — but the two biggest disappointments of his young career have only set the stage for wins shortly thereafter. His Barracuda win was three weeks after finishing second at the 3M Open — and he didn’t play poorly there per se, but was on the short end of the outcome as playing partner Matthew Wolff eagled the final hole to beat him by one. The Workday Charity Open was four weeks after he lost a playoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge by lipping out a 3-foot putt to stay alive.
There hasn’t been much poor play from Morikawa — he now has as many missed cuts on Tour as major championships, and even won the next start after his one miss — further suggesting that he’s going to frequent leaderboards for the foreseeable future. And when someone has the consistency to be in contention often, and the clutch ability that Morikawa has shown, look out.
Over the four rounds of the PGA Championship, Morikawa led the field in fairways hit, average proximity to the hole, and strokes gained putting — the first event anyone has ever led in all three since the strokes gained stat was introduced in 2011.
That proficiency in all facets of the game allowed Morikawa to play the final 23 holes of the tournament without a bogey, and play the final two rounds in 129 strokes (65-64) — a major-championship record for the closing 36 holes.
Morikawa, now ranked No. 5 in the world, has no weaknesses in his game, and that’s not always true of even the top players — sometimes even the World No. 1 player, a mark he can reach with a win in his next start. He would actually already by No. 1, and by a comfortable margin, if the Official World Golf Rankings’ points-divided-by-events formula didn’t have a minimum divisor of 40, diluting the points earned in his 29 pro starts.
“He’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” said Tony Finau, the 14th-ranked player in the world who finished tied for fourth. “He’s a heck of a player. He doesn’t have a weakness in his game. He doesn’t have a weakness mentally. So when you’re dealing with that type of talent, he’s going to be somebody to beat in major championships for a lot of these things.”
But while he’s not officially the best player in the world just yet, a case can be made that he’s been the best player since he turned pro, especially with a major championship now already on the resume.
He’s definitely been the most clutch.
102nd PGA Championship Results
1. Collin Morikawa, U.S., -13 (69-69-65-64 — 267)
T2. Paul Casey, England, -11 (68-67-68-66 — 269)
T2. Dustin Johnson, U.S., -11 (69-67-65-68 — 269), 54-hole leader
T4. Matthew Wolff, U.S., -10 (69-68-68-65 — 270)
T4. Jason Day, Australia, -10 (65-69-70-66 — 270)
T4. Bryson DeChambeau, U.S., -10 (68-70-66-66 — 270)
T4. Tony Finau, U.S., -10 (67-70-67-66 — 270)
T4. Scottie Scheffler, U.S., -10 (66-71-65-68 — 270)
9. Justin Rose, England, -9 (66-68-70-67 — 271)
T10. Xander Schauffele, U.S., -8 (66-70-69-67 — 272)
T10. Joel Dahmen, U.S., -8 (69-68-68-67 — 272)
T10. Cameron Champ, U.S., -8 (71-64-67-70 — 272)
T13. Patrick Reed, U.S., -7 (68-70-69-66 — 273)
T13. Jon Rahm, Spain, -7 (70-69-68-66 — 273)
T17. Haotong Li, China, -6 (67-65-73-69 — 274), 36-hole leader
T22. Adam Scott, Australia, -4 (68-70-70-68 — 276)
T29. Brooks Koepka, U.S., -3 (66-68-69-74 — 277), 2-time defending champion
T33. Rory McIlroy, N. Ireland, -2 (70-69-71-68 — 278)
T37. Tiger Woods, U.S., -1 (68-72-72-67 — 279)
T37. Justin Thomas, U.S., -1 (71-70-68-70 — 279)
T37. Webb Simpson, U.S., -1 (71-68-68-72 — 279)
T71. Jordan Spieth, U.S., +4 (73-68-76-67 — 284)
T71. Phil Mickelson, U.S., +4 (72-69-70-73 — 284)