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Collin Morikawa looks like best golfer in world these days

Collin Morikawa
Collin Morikawa backs up his recent solid play with a 1st-round 66 on Thursday at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

Though he ranks only No. 6, Morikawa brings a hot hand into Memorial and sets clubhouse target with 66 before rain halts play

DUBLIN, Ohio – It’s time to rethink the hierarchy of golf. By hierarchy, I mean the Official World Golf Ranking, that is.

Collin Morikawa drove home the point Thursday at the Memorial Tournament that golf’s ranking system has a tough time accurately following the ups and downs of the world’s best golfers.

According to the OWGR, the top six golf players (the late Tommy Bolt’s preferred way to say “golfers”), in order, are Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa.

That ranking doesn’t pass the eyeball test as we enter June. Johnson all but disappeared since his February victory in Saudi Arabia; Thomas managed only one top-20 in six starts since his Players Championship victory in March; Rahm last won at the 2020 BMW Championship, but he has racked up 10 other top-10 finishes; Schauffele has zero victories in the OWGR’s two-year ranking period but seven runners-up; and DeChambeau, since winning the U.S. Open in September, has finishes of 3, 42, 46, 9, 55, 38, Omaha, red hut-hut!

Morikawa, who won last fall’s delayed PGA Championship at Harding Park, has spent weeks trying to shore up his putting, a considered weakness. He won the WGC Workday Championship in February and has posted five top-10s. His four most recent events, excluding the Zurich Classic team event: Masters, T-18; RBC Heritage, T7; PGA Championship, T-8; Charles Schwab Challenge, T-14.

Factor in his smooth 66 in a weather-delayed opening round at the Memorial. (For scores, click here.) Consider his horses-for-courses history here. He won last year’s one-and-done Workday Charity Open when the PGA Tour held back-to-back tournaments at Muirfield Village, with the Workday event replacing the COVID-canceled John Deere Classic.

That Workday was a modern classic. Thomas lost a three-shot lead with three holes to play, then holed a stunning 50-foot par putt in the playoff, only to watch Morikawa make it for par from 24 feet to tie. Morikawa eventually two-putted for the win on the third playoff hole.

Even if Morikawa doesn’t win this week, a decent top-10 showing would make him a candidate as the No. 1 player in the world based on the eyeball test.

The OWGR rankings get stale. Is DeChambeau’s U.S. Open win from more than seven months ago still relevant other than for the history books?

Suppose we count only results from the calendar year 2021. Here’s how the top of the OWGR would look:

1. Jordan Spieth
2. Tony Finau
3. Brooks Koepka
4. Justin Thomas
5. Billy Horschel
6. Collin Morikawa
7. Viktor Hovland
8. Hideki Matsuyama
9. Paul Casey
10. DeChambeau

I’m not in charge of these things (though I probably should be), but it’s not a stretch to consider that maybe Morikawa should be closer to No. 1 in the world than the numbers indicate. He’s got three victories in the past 12 months, and Thursday’s effort made him the 3-1 favorite on DraftKings to rack up another “W” this week. The usual loyal Muirfield Village spectators braved the on-again-off-again delays Thursday, which was different than when Morikawa won here a year ago in front of zero fans.

“It’s so good to see people,” said Morikawa, a 24-year-old Californian who played college golf at Cal-Berkeley. “I’m kind of glad there weren’t fans last year at Workday, because that putt I made would have been a lot harder after J.T. [Thomas] made his. Fans bring all the energy. When you hit a good shot and they clap, you can see their excitement, and it makes you want to go make that putt even more.”

Morikawa is perfectly suited to play this course. He hits a fade off the tee, just like course designer Jack Nicklaus, who tends to build courses for the way he used to play. Muirfield Village is a second-shot golf course for those in the fairway, because the rough is brutally thick this week. Morikawa happens to be perhaps the PGA Tour’s best iron player. He ranks first in greens hit in regulation and strokes gained on approach shots and fifth in proximity to the hole.

In short, he is not the golf player others want to be chasing already at the Memorial.

“I’ve got good vibes here,” he said.

Here’s one more wild-card item to note: Morikawa had been using a mallet putter, but he switched back to the blade that he used to win the PGA Championship at Harding Park.

He already owns four PGA Tour titles in only 48 career starts. At No. 6 in the world ranking, he remains underrated. With many of golf’s other top-ranked players languishing of late (see Phil Mickelson’s recent PGA Championship for further details regarding whatever happened to the other guys), it’s possible Morikawa could be next to hold the No. 1 ranking.

Right now, he’d settle for being the next to shake tournament host Jack Nicklaus’ hand as the new Memorial Tournament winner. Check back on Sunday.

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