Stun­ning drive, ea­gle putt on 16th make Morikawa ma­jor cham­pion

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

SAN FRAN­CISCO — The shot will be re­mem­bered as one of the best un­der pres­sure that hardly any­one wit­nessed. It made Collin Morikawa a ma­jor cham­pion Sun­day in a thrill-a-minute PGA Cham­pi­onship that not many will for­get.

Morikawa hit driver on the 294-yard 16th hole that was per­fect in flight and even bet­ter when it landed, hop­ping onto the green and rolling to seven feet for an ea­gle putt that all but clinched vic­tory on a most quiet Sun­day at Hard­ing Park.

In the first ma­jor with­out spec­ta­tors, the 23-year-old Morikawa fin­ished with a bang.

‘‘I was hop­ing for a re­ally good bounce and got it,’’ he said af­ter­ward. ‘‘I hit a re­ally good putt, and now we’re here.’’

He closed with a 6-un­der-par 64 — the low­est fi­nal-round score by a PGA cham­pion in 25 years — to earn a two-shot vic­tory over Paul Casey and Dustin John­son, two of 10 play­ers who had a chance on the back nine.

At one point in the round, Morikawa was among seven play­ers tied for the lead. He took the lead when he chipped in for birdie from 40 feet short of the 14th green, then de­liv­ered the knock­out with his gutsy drive and ea­gle putt.

The COVID-19 pan­demic that moved the PGA from May to Au­gust was al­lowed to be played only if spec­ta­tors weren’t al­lowed. But there was one per­son who won’t for­get what he saw.

Casey, with his first good shot at win­ning a ma­jor, birdied the 16th to tie Morikawa for the lead. Stand­ing on the tee at the par-3 17th, he looked back and saw Morikawa’s ball roll to­ward the cup.

‘‘What a shot,’’ said Casey, whose 4-un­der 66 might have been plenty good enough on an­other day. ‘‘Noth

ing you can do but tip your cap to that. Collin had taken on that chal­lenge and pulled it off. That’s what champions do.’’

Morikawa, who com­pleted 72 holes at 13-un­der 267, was still in the vicin­ity of Hard­ing Park just more than a year ago. He was fin­ish­ing up his de­gree and his All-Amer­i­can ca­reer at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley, part of a new cast of young stars in a sport filled with them.

He only played Hard­ing Park about a dozen times while in col­lege, but never was it set up with rough like this or with the tees all the way back.

Now Morikawa — whose only mis­take all day came when he dropped the lid of the Wana­maker Tro­phy — has three PGA Tour vic­to­ries and is No. 5 in the world, tak­ing his place among the young stars by beat­ing a cast of world­class play­ers.

For John­son, it was an­other ma­jor that got away. He had a one-shot lead at the start of the round and didn’t do too much wrong, ex­cept for not keep­ing the ball in the fair­way to give him­self bet­ter chances at birdies.

He drove into the hazard on the 16th and chipped in for birdie when it was too late, and a birdie on the 18th gave him a 2-un­der 68 and a tie for sec­ond.

It was his fifth sec­ond-place fin­ish in a ma­jor — his only ti­tle is the 2016 U.S. Open — and sec­ond con­sec­u­tive run­ner-up in the PGA.

Two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion Brooks Koepka proved to be all talk this time. He looked at the crowded leaderboar­d late Sat­ur­day and didn’t see any­one with his ex­pe­ri­ence of four ma­jor cham­pi­onships, even dish­ing on John­son be­cause he has ‘‘only won one.’’

But Koepka didn’t make a birdie un­til the 12th hole of the fi­nal round. He went from two shots be­hind at the start of the day to a 4-over 74 to fin­ish tied for 29th.

‘‘It’s my first bad round in a ma­jor in a while,’’ Koepka said.

Tiger Woods, mean­while, turned in his best round of the tour­na­ment. He closed with a 3-un­der 67 to fin­ish at 1 un­der.

‘‘To­day was more in­dica­tive of how I could have played on Fri­day and Sat­ur­day if I would have made a few putts early,’’ he said.


Collin Morikawa, 23, sends his ea­gle putt into the hole on the 16th green Sun­day at the PGA Cham­pi­onship. He shot a 6-un­der 64 in the fi­nal round to win his first ma­jor.


Third-round leader Dustin John­son shot a 2-un­der 68 to fin­ish sec­ond in a ma­jor for the fifth time in his ca­reer.

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