Morikawa is the one to catch now after brilliant triumph at The Open

MARTIN SAMUEL: Collin Morikawa is the one to catch now after a record-breaking second major at just 24, but then so were Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth not long ago… It’s a bloody hard game, golf

  • Collin Morikawa won his second major tournament at just his eighth attempt
  • The last two golfers to do that quicker were Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones
  • Morikawa saw off Jordan Spieth, who was once the next big thing in the sport
  • However, his third and last major triumph was at The Open four years ago now 
  • Rory McIlroy’s infuriating inconsistency meant he fell out of contention 

The last two men to win their second major faster than Collin Morikawa had a date in common: 1902, the year of their birth.

Gene Sarazen was quickest, Bobby Jones not far behind. They were born the year the Boer War ended, the year Land of Hope and Glory was first performed, Manchester United and Real Madrid were founded, postcards as we know them — picture on the front, message on the back — were invented, as were teddy bears. It was a long time ago.

See footage of Sarazen now and golf was a very different game. There is footage of him at the 1970 Open. 

Collin Morikawa held off the challenge of Jordan Spieth to clinch the Claret Jug in Sandwich

Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones were the last two men to win two majors earlier in their careers 

Between inserting his tee into the turf and driving takes seven seconds. Sarazen was 68 by then. He finished 22 over par.

So we’re talking history here. What Morikawa is doing, too, is historic. He won the second major he played and now this, his eighth. 

By comparison, Tiger Woods took 18 majors to achieve this milestone. Not that Morikawa is the new Woods. That is the beauty of golf. That we have been here before, and via various routes.

Pursuing Morikawa ferociously but in vain along the back straight was Jordan Spieth, who cut the lead to one shot coming off the 14th, but was bested by two in the end. There was a time, and it was not so long ago, that Spieth was also the future of golf.

It took him nine tries to win his first major, but then he swept up three in 11. He was going to dominate. 

And then: nothing. The same with Rory McIlroy. He won four majors across 1,148 days and it is now 2,534 since his last victory of such substance.

So the way Morikawa separated from the pack on Sunday was both daunting yet also strangely trivial. It could be that we are about to see the Morikawa years, the way Woods came to bestride this game.

Equally, we could be sitting here five years on, wondering what happened. Another in the chasing group, Louis Oosthuizen, won the Open in 2010 at the age of 27. 

He probably thought it wouldn’t be his last, either. Since then, second at the US Masters, the US Open (twice), the Open and the PGA Championship (twice).

Jordan Spieth has suffered a succession of near misses since his last taste of major glory

That’s the sport: in 2021, Phil Mickelson became the oldest winner of a major, and also shot his worst opening round at the Open in 26 visits. How to explain any of it?

That golf, for all the talk of length and yardage, is primarily played in the inches behind the ears is the common explanation. 

How else to rationalise Spieth’s fall from the world’s No 1 golfer in 2015, and its No 2 in 2017, to 85th in 2020.

How to compute McIlroy’s wild lurches, not year by year, or tournament by tournament, but hole to hole. 

He made 17 birdies around Royal St George’s — as many as Morikawa made in his first 62 holes, and two fewer than the champion across 72.

It should have been enough to contend, had McIlroy not given the same net value back in bogeys. 

Phil Mickelson’s worst Open first-round display in 26 visits was in the same year as a major win

He was long gone by the time the championship was being decided, in a quite wonderful slugfest down the back nine.

‘Seventeen is more than enough to challenge,’ he said. ‘It’s just I make too many mistakes, and that’s the part I need to get right. 

‘Whether that’s trying to be a little too aggressive from bad spots or putting myself in bad spots to begin with, but it’s just a matter of trying to iron out those mistakes.

‘There is enough good stuff in there to contend but I’m not allowing myself to do that. 

‘There are certainly times when there were mistakes, when those bogeys didn’t come from a bad swing but a bad decision, or trying to do something you shouldn’t do.’

Yet the sight of Spieth applying pressure, of Oosthuizen only kept at bay by a quite exceptional round from Morikawa, should offer hope.   

Rory McIlroy’s infuriating inconsistency left him out of contention on the final day in Kent

Just as two majors in eight are no guarantee, neither is seven years in the relative wilderness. As is so often the case in elite sport, the finest margins decide. 

At one stage Morikawa threatened to make this a procession but the reason front-runners are so vulnerable in golf — Woods was an exception, which is why he was so special — is because the pressure when leading is immense and the price of every mistake so savage.

At the par-five seventh, Oosthuizen hit a lovely tee shot then planted his approach into a greenside bunker to the right. 

He caught a flyer out and ended up across the green in a bunker to the left, and with a rotten lie near the far bank. He ended up with bogey. 

Morikawa sank his putt for a birdie. It was a two-shot swing on the back of one error. And from there, Morikawa never relinquished his grip.

A word about Morikawa’s putting to close out this championship. Fabulous. A word on his putting as perceived by many observers of the PGA Tour. Miserable. And that’s the other sliver of hope for those doing the chasing.

Louis Oosthuizen led going into the final day – but a tough time at the seventh proved costly

If there is a part of Morikawa’s game that is said to possess flaws — he’s straight from the tee and his iron play is wonderful — it is on the green. 

Now the bad news. There was absolutely no evidence of that flaw when the pressure was on. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

He needed to save par as all champions do sometimes and did. Not a single bogey on the card, remarkable in the circumstances.

It wasn’t as if he had a cushion, a substantial lead to lean on either. For those final holes he was at the mercy of the same two-shot swing that did for Oosthuizen earlier. One dropped shot and a birdie from Spieth and they were level.

Nor was it a rookie leaderboard. Spieth, US Open champion Jon Rahm, Oosthuizen one of the most consistent competitors on the circuit. 

Morikawa’s putting has often been his flaw – but the 24-year-old was nerveless on this occasion

With Spieth in the clubhouse 13 under, even the last could not be approached with a spotless mind.

Yet not a flicker. Morikawa drained a short putt for par on the 17th, sensibly took the conservative three wood option on the 18th tee, stepped away from the ball because the crowd were a little excitable, regrouped and planted one straight down the middle.

It wasn’t seven seconds, like the good old days, but it was history just the same. Morikawa is the man to catch. Yet so was Spieth once, so was McIlroy. Bloody hard game, golf.

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