Collin Morikawa didn’t set out to make history yet in winning The Open Championship in his first appearance at Royal St George’s Golf Club the 24-year-old American made some alterations to the record books.
Morikawa began the final round one stroke behind South African Louis Oosthuizen but in perhaps the best position to push for the Claret Jug.
First-timers aren’t expected to win The Open, particularly those from the United States who it is said need time to adapt to the vagaries of links golf, but only two players – Tiger Woods in 2005 and Rory McIlroy in 2014 – have gone wire-to-wire at The Open since Gary Player in 1974 and given his record of runner-up finishes in major championships the expectation on Oosthuizen was weighty.
Morikawa’s bogey-free round of 4-under 66 saw him finish at 15-under and two strokes clear of 2017 Open champion Jordan Spieth (66) with Oosthuizen (71) and Spain’s Jon Rahm (66) sharing third place at 11-under par.
In creating his own slice of history Morikawa would echo the deeds of Open champions of the past.
He became the first Open winner on debut since Ben Curtis at Royal St George’s in 2003 and his four-round total of 15-udner 265 is now the lowest in the history of The Open at Royal St George’s, two strokes better than Greg Norman’s winning score in 1993.
The 2020 US PGA champion at TPC Harding Park, Morikawa became the first player in the history of men’s golf to win in his debut at two separate major events and said that it all came down to one moment late on the front nine.
“The seventh hole was definitely the turning point,” Morikawa said as he cradled the Claret Jug.
“At that point I felt like I was hitting quality shots. I was hitting good shots to give myself chances for birdie.
“Saw what happened to Louis. I’m not sure what happened with his first bunker shot, if he had a tough lie or anything, but just to have that little switch of a two-shot swing kind of got that round started and into another gear in a sense.”
Oosthuizen’s bogey at the fourth hole brought the final pairing together at the top of the leaderboard and when the 2010 Open champion took two to get out of the bunker at the par-5 seventh to drop another shot, Morikawa pounced.
His birdie suddenly gave Morikawa a two-stroke lead and then he continued to turn the screws, picking up shots at eight and nine to establish a lead as large as four shots with the back nine lying in wait.
There was another birdie from long range at 14 but perhaps just as decisive were the par saves at 10 and 15 that ensured those with their eyes on the prize were kept at arm’s length.
“When you make history – and I’m 24 years old – it’s hard to grasp and it’s hard to really take it in,” Morikawa added.
“At 24 years old, it’s so hard to look back at the two short years that I have been a pro and see what I’ve done because I want more.
“I enjoy these moments and I love it. I want to teach myself to embrace it a little more, maybe spend a few extra days and sit back and drink out of this (the Claret Jug).
“When you’re in these moments and you truly love what you do, these are the best moments ever because the nerves push you to just be a better person.”
Australia’s only real hope entering the final day was Cameron Smith but the Queenslander admitted to becoming frustrated as he sought to make a Sunday surge.
Smith began the day six strokes off the lead and his hopes were effectively over when he followed a bogey at four with a double-bogey at the par-4 fifth.
“Hit a bad tee shot off five. Just didn’t go my way and I got really frustrated,” said Smith, whose round of 4-over 74 saw him finish in a tie for 33rd.
“If that had happened to me earlier in the week I think I would have been more calm, but given the
circumstances, it just really bugged me. Kind of felt angry, I guess, the whole day.
“I’ll learn a lot from this week and I’ll be back next year stronger.”
With birdie at each of his opening two holes Adam Scott threatened to make some inroads into the leaderboard but four bogeys mixed in with his six birdies saw him close with a 2-under 68 and end the week in a share of 46th at even par.
Exceptional iron shots at one and two gave Scott opportunities from close range that he took full advantage of but dropped shots at three and five either side of a third birdie at the fourth kept the Queenslander from making a stronger early impression.
The 41-year-old picked up shots at each of the two par 5s at seven and 14 to get to 3-under on his round but again he sandwiched a birdie at 17 with bogeys at 16 and 18 to complete his 21st campaign to claim the Claret Jug.
“There were signs of good golf out there, but it’s the areas in between that get punished more severely at major championships, and that’s why the score isn’t as good as it could be,” Scott reflected.
“I got off to a good start today and then just kind of managed my way round from there.
“When you get momentum going at the majors it’s hard to really get it going or keep it going.
“That was kind of the story of my week. Of course, I didn’t swing the club as good as I wanted all week and overall it’s a bit disappointing not to be in with a chance.
“Kind of the story of the year.”
The Open Championship
Royal St George’s Golf Club, Sandwich, England
Winner Collin Morikawa 67-64-68-66—265 €1,752,861
T33 Cameron Smith 69-67-68-74—278 €50,928
T46 Adam Scott 73-66-73-68—280 €28,518
T67 Ryan Fox 68-68-71-76—283 €22,778
MC Marc Leishman 75-67—142
MC Matt Jones 72-71—143
MC Min Woo Lee 74-69—143
MC Lucas Herbert 70-73—143
MC Daniel Hillier 72-71—143
MC Jason Scrivener 73-71—144
MC Jason Day 75-70—145
MC Brad Kennedy 71-74—145
MC Aaron Pike 74-75—149
MC Deyen Lawson 80-77—157