Morikawa, broke out of the largest logjam of players tied for the back nine, final round lead in over a century of major championship golf history. Nine players were tied for the lead at one point as they all played the back nine, equaling the nine players that were tied for the lead in the final round of the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, won by Ray Floyd.
Morikawa did it with lightning, then thunder, just like it happens in nature. First you see the flash, then you hear the boom. The flash came at the 472 yard par-4 14th, when Moriakawa pitched in for birdie to break out of the 9-way tie and get to 11-under. Morikawa was 3-under on the day to that point and had uncorked a 305 yard drive, but ion one of the only hiccups of his round, he fanned a 9-iron, leaving himself short and right of the green.
“The ball was a little above my feet, a little uphill stance, and when you don’t hit it out here, in the thick air, cold, windy, ball is even going to go shorter. I had to step on a 9-iron on that hole and never got a hold of it,” Morikawa recalled, “But the chip shot, yeah I think that was a huge turning point. That separated me.”
Then came the thunder. Now in the lead and realizing that the tees were up on the already diminutive par-4 16th, he blasted a driver with missile command power and precision. Over the trees it soared, gently curving around them, threading its way to the entrance of the green and then sitting like an obedient dog a mere seven feet fro the cup for an all but kick-in eagle and a three-shot cushion..
“By Wednesday night, I had no plans on going for 16 at all. I told Colt Knost – he saw me Wednesday afternoon practicing on there, and he asked me if I was ever going to go for it – I told him a quick no, it’s too much into the wind. I didn’t think the pin was going to be where it was,” explained Morikawa, who actually should have anticipated it, because everyone else did. You know Tom Brady is going to throw to Tom Brady in the clutch, and you know PGA Championship tournament setup maven Kerry Haigh is going to create drama late on Sunday with an eagle late if he can set up the course that way. Shortening 16 on Sunday from 336 to 294 giving everyone ion the field the option, not just the longest hitters. The hiole even played a mere 286 on Friday.
“My caddie [said] 278 to the front. It was going to land just short of that in this weather; it’s going to bounce on up. He looked at me and asked me what I wanted to do and I told him, let’s hit a good drive,” Morikawa stated.
That’s exactly what Morikawa did, hearkening back to the 14th hole on Sunday at the Memorial tournament earlier this year, an event that he didn’t win, but one where he showed his mettle. He drove the green on their short par-4 as well.
“I counted back from 14 at Muirfield,” he admitted. “What’s different from 14 at Muirfield and this shot, similar numbers, wind was a little left, kind of into me, but I knew I had to hit a good one.”
Morikawa, who graduated from the University of California in May of last year, won his third PGA Tournament and his first major championship in just his first 12 months as a PGA Tour pro. He also became the 10th major champion to shoot all four rounds in the 60s. (69-69-65-64). He got stronger each day, culminating with his clean card, four birdies and one eagle on Sunday. He finished the tournament leading the field in several critical stats, including fairways hit, proximity to the hole on approach shots, and putting.
So he drove it the straightest, approached the hole most accurately, and putted the best. The only thing he didn’t do right was lift the trophy. When he accepted it at the presentation and went to lift it over his head, the top flew off and almost ended up in Lake Merced, a fitting end to a crazy week. Still, it’s likely he’ll get a chance to lift major championship trophies again. He’s only 23. Jack Micklaus, Rory McIlroy, and Tiger Woods all won the PGA at age 23. I know it’s early to start talking like that, but don’t tell Morikawa that.
“I feel very comfortable in this spot. When I woke up today, I was like, this is meant to be. This is where I feel very comfortable. This is where I want to be, and I’m not scared from it. I think if I was scared from it, the last few holes would have been a little different, but you want to be in this position,” he confided candidly. “It doesn’t stop here. I’ve got a very good taste of what this is like…this is where I want to be. I love it.”
Meanwhile, two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka was never a factor on Sunday. After opening the tournament with a stellar 66, Koepka slipped further back every day, ending with a disastrous 74 that took him from contention to an also ran. He finished the tournament at 3-under.