Last year, after the USPGA Championship got moved up to May from its previously customary August dates, there were four major championships between April and July. One per month. It was the new normal. That was Golf ’19. Then came Covid-19. Until this past week, we had gone over 12 months without a major at all.
The tag-line for this championship used to be ‘Glory’s Last Shot’; the final opportunity for anyone to claim a major in the current season. In 2020, it was the first such chance, one which at Harding Park Golf Club in San Francisco on Sunday was taken by Collin Morikawa, who prevailed by two shots over Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson.
This was the third victory for the 23-year-old Morikawa in 27 starts on the PGA Tour. He only turned pro last year and today he is ranked the fifth best golfer in the world. Among the many pleasing aspects of his triumph was that at a time when almost all anyone has been talking about is length off the tee (mostly because of Bryson DeChambeau), this championship was won by the guy ranked 110th in driving distance.
Morikawa took command over a crowded leaderboard first by chipping in for a birdie on the 14thto take the lead alone at 11 under par and then hitting a marvellous tee-shot on the driveable par-four 16th to within eight feet of the stick. When the eagle duly landed, he was effectively home and hosed – to the appreciation of the TV audience. “This is the one time I really wish there were crowds here,” the new champion said afterwards.
This was a tournament, of course, played without fans. “It’s funny,” said Rory McIlroy before the off. “There are no grandstands. There is nothing to really frame the greens.” I wasn’t there so I can’t really comment on that except to say I get his point. I have seen Augusta National without spectators on the property, and it’s weird. In that circumstance, for example, the 2nd green looks like a piece of even-more closely mown grass in a field of closely mown grass, albeit with a flagstick in sight and a bunker in front. Fans don’t only generate atmosphere; they help to define the test confronting the players.
McIlroy departed Harding Park still looking for major No. 5. Tiger Woods left without managing to claim a record 83rd PGA Tour title, and without inching closer to Jack Nicklaus’s tally of 18 majors. Brooks Koepka didn’t become only the fourth man to win the same major championship three years in a row; quite shockingly, he unravelled with a 74 on Sunday. And Jordan Spieth didn’t come close to completing the career Grand Slam – in fact, had he not birdied the last hole on Saturday, he would have been first man out on Sunday as a singleton.
Having gone so long without a major championship, they now come comparatively thick and fast. It’s like the old line about buses – you wait ages for one and then three come at once. Next month it’s the US Open at Winged Foot, where Phil Mickelson will be attempting to do what Spieth just didn’t. Five and a bit weeks to go, and counting. I’m sure Collin Morikawa, for one, can hardly wait.
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