Collin Morikawa wins in his Open Championship debut

·8-min read
SANDWICH, ENGLAND - JULY 18: Collin Morikawa of the United States celebrates after his round on the 18th hole during Day Four of The 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 18, 2021 in Sandwich, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Collin Morikawa celebrates winning The 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 18, 2021 in Sandwich, England. (Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

A year ago, Collin Morikawa had played in exactly one major. Now, after a decisive win at The Open Championship, he has as many major victories in the last 12 months as Dustin Johnson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Greg Norman and Ben Crenshaw have in their entire careers. 

On the hottest day of the year at Sandwich, England, Morikawa remained cool, separating himself from the pack with a three-birdie stretch to close the front nine and following that with a steady, precise back nine. He finished at -15, two strokes ahead of Jordan Spieth and four ahead of Louis Oosthuizen and Jon Rahm. 

Like Norman, Morikawa captured The Open Championship at Royal St. George's. Unlike Norman — or anyone else in golf history — Morikawa won two majors in his debut performance at each. He'll now head into the major offseason as one of the most decorated players in the game at the age of 24. 

The opening rounds

Sunday marked the first time the Claret Jug had changed hands in two years, since Shane Lowry won at Royal Portrush in 2019. The R&A made the decision last spring to cancel the 2020 Open entirely rather than attempt to host it under COVID conditions, and even as the 2021 date came around, the pandemic still cast a long shadow.

Players in The Open arrived in Sandwich under heavy restrictions on their movement and contacts, leading to complaints that the partially-full galleries had an easier weekend of it. The R&A’s restrictions and testing took out more than a dozen players prior to the tournament’s start, including Bubba Watson, past Open champion Zach Johnson and reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama. Fortunately for the tournament, COVID restrictions didn’t affect the run of play once Thursday arrived.

There’s only one road in and out of Royal St. George’s, meaning if you want to stay ahead of the pack, you need to get in front early. (Sergio Garcia, who nearly missed his tee time because of a traffic jam, would agree.) Oosthuizen, less than a month removed from his U.S. Open near-miss, began his round with seven straight pars before finding another gear and reeling off birdies the rest of the round to finish with a 64. He held the outright lead at -6, one ahead of Spieth and Brian Harman.

The biggest news out of Thursday didn’t come from the course, but from the media tent. Bryson DeChambeau struggled at Royal St. George's, since his current bash-it-and-see-what-happens style doesn't translate well to links golf. DeChambeau made the ill-advised choice to blame his equipment for his early troubles. He declared that his Cobra driver “sucks,” which prompted a rapid and angry reply from Cobra … not to mention some jabbing from perpetual rival Brooks Koepka.

Nasty weather, almost always a challenge at The Open Championship, apparently decided to take a vacation, leaving Royal St. George’s kissed with gentle breezes under blue skies. Morikawa, with an early morning Friday tee time, took advantage of the tame conditions to fire a six-under 64 and briefly hold the leaderboard … until Oosthuizen teed it up, then caught and passed him with a 65. Oosthuizen’s combined score was the lowest ever recorded over the first 36 holes of an Open, again giving him the solo lead heading into the weekend.

The conditions at Royal St. George’s weren’t as punishing as previous Opens, but they still claimed victims. Phil Mickelson spent a considerable stretch of his Open in dead last, finishing at +12. Will Zalatoris had to withdraw after straining his back getting out of the waist-deep hay surrounding the course. And Tyrrell Hatton struggled Friday, taking out his frustrations on a poor wedge on his final hole of the day.

The weekend

The weekend arrived with Oosthuizen once again in the lead at a major, and so did the same questions about whether he could at long last convert another. He won in 2010 at St. Andrews, but since then he’s finished in the runner-up slot six times at majors, including the last two. Still, his emotional register runs from “chill” to “very chill,” and so he once again snapped out of a long par slump to start his round. He finished the day with a 69, enough to hold a one-stroke lead on Morikawa.

Playing alongside Oosthuizen, Morikawa struggled early, bogeying two of his first five holes. But he went -4 the rest of the way to finish the day one stroke behind Oosthuizen, setting up another pairing for Sunday.

Spieth, meanwhile, fought his way into a tie for the lead. But he saw his third round collapse with two late bogeys on 17 and 18, including an 18-inch miss on the 18th that left him infuriated and rushing straight to the putting green. Three strokes behind Oosthuizen to start Sunday, Spieth spent hours working with his putter, bringing it in hand to the course on Sunday morning.

SANDWICH, ENGLAND - JULY 18: Collin Morikawa of the United States celebrates after his putt on the 18th hole as fans applaud during Day Four of The 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 18, 2021 in Sandwich, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Collin Morikawa of the United States celebrates after his putt on the 18th hole as fans applaud during Day Four of The 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 18, 2021 in Sandwich, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The final round

The leaders didn’t tee off until 2:35 p.m. local time Sunday, plenty of time to realize that this would be a sprint, not a slog. Birdies were everywhere Sunday morning, with Koepka stacking them like firewood. Koepka got as close as -8, four strokes off Oosthuizen’s lead, by the 12th hole, but then stalled out to finish there.

Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth all held serve through the first three holes, but on the fourth, Spieth was the first to flinch. He bogeyed to drop four strokes off the lead, but soon afterward, Oosthuizen in the final pairing did the same. A clutch par putt kept Morikawa in a tie for the lead at -11.

Spieth continued to struggle on the sixth, dropping another stroke to close out the first third of the course at -7, four strokes off the lead and one stroke behind Koepka and a surging Dylan Frittelli. Shortly afterward, Rahm carded an eagle at the 7th after missing two straight birdie putts, vaulting himself up to within three strokes of the lead.

But Spieth found something on the 7th hole, a long, wiggling two-breaker that dropped for eagle to put him back to even on the day and two strokes off the lead. Alongside Spieth, Corey Conners briefly elbowed his way into the conversation by draining an eagle to get to -9.

The easiest hole on the course, that same 7th, brutalized Oosthuizen. He dropped his approach into a greenside bunker, then absolutely skulled his escape attempt, one-hopping the ball all the way across the green and into another bunker. Oosthuizen bogeyed the hole even as Morikawa birdied it, a two-shot swing that left Morikawa up two strokes on the field at -12.

Spieth finished his front nine with another birdie to get to -10, even with Oosthuizen. He followed that up with another birdie at the 10th to drop to -11 and pass Oosthuizen.

But even as Spieth was surging, Morikawa was keeping him at bay, birdieing the final three holes of the front nine to make the turn at -14.

Oosthuizen finally put a red number on the board at the par 3 11th, birdieing the hole after hitting the flagstick off the tee. But that still left him three strokes behind Morikawa, who weathered tricky shots at 10 and 11 without surrendering a stroke.

Spieth began the final third of the course with a birdie to close to within two strokes of Morikawa. Moments later, Oosthuizen effectively ended yet another major bid when his tee shot nestled up against the front wall of a fairway bunker. He bogeyed the hole, falling four strokes back with five holes remaining.

Morikawa cooled a bit, playing the first four holes of the back nine in even par, but Spieth kept up the pressure. Yet another birdie on 14 pulled him to within one stroke with just four holes remaining. Rahm stayed on the outer edge of the conversation with four straight late birdies that put him at -11 with two holes to go.

But Morikawa remained ridiculously steady, rolling an uphill birdie putt on 14 to stretch his lead out to two strokes again at -15. Ahead of him, Spieth narrowly missed a birdie putt at 15; at two strokes back, the opportunities were dwindling for Spieth. 

Morikawa cracked open the door just a touch with a wayward approach that found Royal St. George's thicket of rough. But he chipped his way out of serious trouble, then rolled in a long par save to keep the field two strokes back. 

Spieth kept the pressure on, playing his way into a birdie putt on 17. But he couldn't convert, remaining two strokes back as he walked to the final hole. Behind him, Morikawa executed crafty, strategic shots on 17 and 18 to protect his lead, and when Spieth parred 18, Morikawa had all the cushion he needed to walk up the 18th fairway and claim the Claret Jug. 

Collin Morikawa stood alone at the end of the Open Championship. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Collin Morikawa stood alone at the end of the Open Championship. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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