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2020 PGA Championship: Collin Morikawa wins a thriller

Collin Morikawa 2020 PGA Championship Wanamaker Trophy
Collin Morikawa holds the Wanamaker Trophy as the winner of the 102nd PGA Championship on Sunday at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

Californian emerges from the pack at TPC Harding Park with a pivotal eagle and back-nine charge en route to a final-round 64 and victory in one of the game's wildest major-championship finishes

We’d like to welcome two new members to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

First, congratulations to CBS analyst Frank Nobilo. When Collin Morikawa hit some kind of frozen-laser-bullet-rope-fade drive that bounced onto TPC Harding Park’s par-4 16th green, stopped 7 feet, 1 inch short of being an ace and all but slammed the coffin lid on the other PGA Championship pursuers, Nobilo rose to the occasion.

He didn’t say, “Oh, you can’t leave that short!” That would have been awful announcing. Instead, Nobilo absolutely nailed it with, “The shot of his life!”

It’s not as sexy as “Slam-a-lama-DING-DONG,” or the Pittsburgh Pirates announcer’s home run call, “Cannonball coming!” But seriously, Nobilo’s call joins the other legendary golf phrases on the top shelf. They include, “In your life, have you seen anything like that?”; “Yessir!”, and “Better than most!” We hereby dub thee Sir Nobilo. (Make sure to tell your CBS pal, Sir Nick Faldo. He’ll love that.)

To be a legendary call, it has to involve a legendary finish or a legendary player. What PGA Championship viewers just witnessed at Harding Park was something close to that.

The other hall-of-fame honoree here needs no introduction. Especially since he’s already been mentioned. And especially because he just finished stepping on the necks of the world’s finest golf players, as the late Hall of Fame golf player Tommy Bolt always liked to say instead of “golfers.”

No worthwhile media scum, credentialed or otherwise, would ever rush to judgment but … we have to make an exception for the Exceptional Mr. Morikawa after Sunday’s Wildest Major Ever. This PGA Championship five-way, six-way and seven-way leads in the final round.

This was the most thrilling, emotionally draining major with a surprise ending in decades – or maybe since Tiger Woods accidentally won the 2019 Masters. It’s your call.

Collin Morikawa wins 2020 PGA Championship
Collin Morikawa enjoys a final-round 64 Sunday en route to winning the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

Morikawa is a University of California graduate who joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to capture a PGA Championship by age 23. He did it by shooting 65-64 on the weekend at Harding Park, a course that he played dozens of times while being a four-time first-team All-American across the bay at Cal (scores).

He has won three times on the PGA Tour now, and in this modern age of instant technological gratification, let’s not waste time. We’re projecting Morikawa to have a World Golf Hall of Fame career, so, consider yourself inducted, sir.

No, that’s not a rush to judgment. As we mentioned, the media wouldn’t do that. But this was only Morikawa’s second appearance in a major. He arrived on Tour from Cal in mid-2019 already a polished, seasoned veteran, and it has showed. This major title was no fluke. He’s been a stick since he broke in, and he has a habit of hanging near the lead. You may recall him missing a shortish putt that curiously broke away from the cup that cost him the Charles Schwab Championship at Colonial in a playoff when golf returned from its COVID-induced hibernation in June. Well, nobody wins them all.

Don’t forget that Morikawa beat a cast of future hall-of-famers, too. Dustin Johnson held the 54-hole lead, but his 68 left him two strokes shy of Morikawa’s 72-hole total of 13 under. Johnson owns a U.S. Open title among his 21 wins and is clearly hall material, even if he stumbled again Sunday.

Brooks Koepka has won four major championships, which is three more than hall-of-famers such as Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Ian Woosnam, and four more than inductees Colin Montgomerie, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby Jr.

Koepka talked smack after the third round about taking down his workout buddy, Johnson, en route to scoring an historic PGA Championship three-peat, but Morikawa un-peated Koepka and defeated Johnson. Morikawa edged Koepka by 10 strokes in the final round (64-74), and in match-play scoring, was an easy 5-and-4 winner.

Woods and Phil Mickelson were in the field, too, and they’re already in the hall. It seems likely that Justin Rose will make it. His late run came up just short, too. Justin Thomas? He’s on a good pace. Jordan Spieth? Well, those three majors are starting to look suspect, but, c’mon, he’ll be back. Rory McIlroy? An obvious HOF choice, and other than the fact that he, too, eagled the par-4 16th hole in the final round, his play had little in common with Morikawa’s.

What makes Morikawa so good? He’s got that something extra, that special ingredient, like Koepka or even Woods, that makes him a closer. His PGA Tour statistics aren’t impressive. He ranks second in strokes gained on approach shots and 14th in total strokes gained and – this sounds ridiculous – 164th in strokes gained putting.

Morikawa weaves it all together and becomes greater than the sum of his parts, a little like Curtis Strange back in the Prehistoric Era. In short, he has a knack for getting the ball in the hole, particularly when it counts. He’s not a big hitter, yet he has made 16 eagles in this short season.

Is his putting shaky? Not likely. He ranked No. 1 in strokes gained putting at the PGA, fifth in driving accuracy – sorry, Bryson DeChambeau and D.J., but you cannot play Harding Park from the rough – and he was eighth in greens hit in regulation.

Two other strokes of genius stand out: First, he was in the process of nervously messing up the pushover opening hole Sunday, which would be a terrible start because the other players burst out of gate like 3-year-old thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Derby. Morikawa was in danger of getting mentally trampled. The 164th-ranked putter then calmly – make that determinedly – rolled in a clutch 22-footer to save par. That was big.

Later, at the 14th hole, he missed the green right and was in an awkward spot in the rough. He was in one of those 23-way ties for the lead then, and this appeared to be his moment to exit this crazy PGA shootout. Instead, he looped a lovely pitch shot that bounced on the green, grabbed like a pair of snow tires on dry pavement, and then trickled into the cup for an unlikely birdie. Suddenly, he had the lead.

Some of the pack caught him, setting up that Shot of His Life at 16.

Morikawa sent a beautiful drive toward the green. His ball landed on the fringe, took a good bounce toward the pin and, just for a split second, looked as if it might have a chance at being an ace. That would have been a hall-of-fame PGA finish.

Seven feet away was close enough. Paul Casey, one of the pursuers who was a stroke behind and the eventual co-runner-up with Johnson, was on the 17th tee when it happened. He looked back, saw the ball and smiled wryly. “What a shot,” the gracious Englishman said later. “All you can did is tip your cap.”

Morikawa smoothly rolled in the putt. What did the other big guns do on this decisive hole, where PGA officials moved the tees up so players had the option of trying to drive it?

Scottie Scheffler carved a slice drive onto the back portion of the green and left his eagle putt just short, in the jar. Bryson DeChambeau launched a shot that walked a tightrope between the right fringe and the bunker. He was able to putt it, but missed right and settled for birdie, which wasn’t enough. Tony Finau fed his tee shot into the right trees and made par. Dustin Johnson deposited a ball into the left hazard, then holed a long pitch from thick rough for a ridiculous birdie that left him shaking his head because it was too little, too late.

Morikawa displayed his Ice Man Cometh form on the final two holes. He dropped one pin high at the 17th and made par, and made a routine par at the tricky 18th.

The smile he flashed after he retrieved the ball was worth four hours of intense drama.

America has a new golfing star in Morikawa. You watched him arrive in style at Harding Park. The kid is good.

You also saw the Shot of His Life.

Well, so far…

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