Morikawa wins British Open for 2nd major

SECOND MAJOR ­— American Collin Morikawa celebrates on the 18th green after winning the British Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s golf course Sandwich, England, July 18.
AP Photo/Peter Morrison

SANDWICH, England — Collin Morikawa was making one of the most satisfying walks in golf, down the 18th fairway as a soon-to-be British Open champion, when he looked up at the huge grandstand surrounding the green.

It was filled with spectators, who firstly were applauding and soon giving a standing ovation to a 24-year-old American making a historic start to his major championship career.

So different to 11 months ago, when Morikawa won his first major — the PGA Championship — at an empty venue.

“I hope the thing is off the table,” Morikawa said, “that I can play with fans and I can play well on a Sunday.”

Fans. No fans. Parkland. Now even links. Morikawa is the real deal, make no mistake.

The mature-beyond-his-years Californian closed with a bogey-free, 4-under 66 at Royal St. George’s and won the British Open in his debut July 18, becoming the first player to capture two different majors on the first attempt. And this time there was a crowd, at 32,000 the biggest since golf returned following the coronavirus outbreak.

After tapping in for par to win by two shots over Jordan Spieth, he gave a fist pump before applauding the spectators. Before long, he was being handed the claret jug that so many go their entire career without winning. He gazed adoringly at it, then thrust it into the air and gave it a kiss.

“Those are the moments, the few seconds that you embrace so much,” he said. “And you look around, every seat is packed. Everywhere is packed with people.”

They were seeing a young player already halfway to the career Grand Slam after eight starts, the first since Bobby Jones in 1926 to win two majors in so few appearances. He follows Gene Sarazen, Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Spieth in winning multiple majors before turning 25.

His total of 15-under 265 was a 72-hole record in 15 British Opens at Royal St. George’s. In 13 of them, the winning score has been 5 under or lower.

“When you make history,” he said, “it’s hard to grasp, it’s hard to really take it in … 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.”

He did it with style amid immaculate weather on the links off Sandwich Bay, flushing shots with his irons and getting up-and-down on the rare occasions he found trouble. He called his putting display one of the best of his short career, turning a statistical weakness into a strength.

Starting the final round one shot behind Louis Oosthuizen, Morikawa was tied for the lead after four holes and then made three straight birdies on Nos. 7-9 to overtake the South African, who hadn’t trailed since the 12th hole of his second round.

Morikawa made key par saves — pumping his fist both times — at Nos. 10 and 15, between which he rolled a birdie putt up and over a ridge and into the cup on the 14th to build a two-stroke lead he never lost. Spieth parred his final four holes and also shot 66.

By making par at the last after another perfect drive, Morikawa played his final 31 holes without a bogey on a course that has confounded many great players because of its quirky bounces and undulating fairways.

All the more remarkable was that this was his first major test on a seaside links. Morikawa had little experience with this style of golf before playing the Scottish Open last week at The Renaissance Club, which is not a traditional links but featured the kind of tight lies and rolling terrain that prepared him for it. He even had three new irons in his bag this week.

He completed a feat achieved by Ben Curtis on the same course in 2003, winning golf’s oldest championship in his links debut.

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