It was unlike a major Sunday. They came bursting through the gates wearing confidence on their sleeves on a pleasant afternoon at the TPC Harding Park in San Fransisco. Overnight leader Dustin Johnson began his quest for a second major with a birdie at the first to protect his lead. But it wasn’t to be for long. Collin Morikawa strode like a man possessed, before unleashing his brilliance on the back nine to produce a thrilling spectacle. The 23-year-old emulated Rory McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods by winning his first PGA Championship with an audacious final round effort. Paul Casey and Johnson finished in a tie for second, two strokes behind the Californian.
Morikawa separated himself from the crowd with a birdie on the 14th before producing an epic eagle on the 16th to secure his maiden major victory. With a sensational 64, highlighted by some great putts and a mind numbing tee shot at the 16th hole, Morikawa ended the week at 13-under 267 for a remarkable triumph over a packed leader board. He fueled his win riding on a weekend 129 (65-64) that is likely to be remembered for a long time.
“Being able to see the course a dozen times was helpful. But I still had to read the greens,” Morikawa told Jim Nantz. He did that pretty well all week, more importantly, he was the best of the lot on driving accuracy. And that helped Morikawa stay with the game and overhaul them in the end.
Johnson didn’t do much wrong, but a sedate Sunday just wasn’t enough to shake off the brilliant young man that stole the show. Johnson did well to finish with two birdies in the last three holes for a tie in second with Casey at 11-under 269.
Bryson DeChambeau made his intentions obvious with three birdies in the first four holes, breathing into Johnson’s neck. At 9-under, DeChambeau was just one off the pace and taking every stride with intensity and purpose. When Johnson left himself a tricky par putt on the third, it slid right past the cup bringing him level with Scottie Scheffler and DeChambeau.
Tony Finau collected a couple of early birdies, as the crowd built up a nice lather at the top of the leader board. Paul Casey is 43, playing in his 64th major and the scent of elusive glory was wafting all around the Englishman. Keeping them company were California lads Cameron Champ and Collin Morikawa, all tied at 8-under. That did not last long though, as one after another, Champ, Morikawa and Casey kept reading the green like an open book, earning a share of the lead. At this stage, over a span of just 15 minutes, there were now six golfers with a share of the lead at 9-under, with ten others between -8 and 6-under.
The one man that wasn’t going to plan was Brooks Koepka. The four-time major winner saw his birdie putts stall agonisingly short on the first and fourth. That anguish was punctuated by the angst that came with a bogey on the second that dropped him into the crowd of golfers at six-under. He made 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation, but could only manage a disappointing 74 for a tepid ending to his week.
Cameron Champ made a monstrous 56 footer on the 6th hole, going edge to edge on the green to earn a share of the lead at 10-under. That came moments after Bryson put himself at the top with a 15 footer on the 7th. But DeChambeau surrendered the advantage with a hungry error on the long par-3 8th hole. He could not reach the green from a fluffy lie and made bogey to leave Champ and Johnson at the head of the table.
But after the initial hustle, the scent of silver and deceptive racks of shelf space that pass for greens at the Harding Park kept the golfers honest and rooted. The lead remained at 10-under, with Matthew Wolff going in on a 32, posting 65, moving into a share of the lead before retiring to the clubhouse. Very soon, there were seven men tied for the lead as the first major in over a year inched towards a thrilling finish.
A brilliant chip in birdie from the cradle of a swale around the perched 14th green helped Morikawa take sole ownership of the lead at 11-under. The 23-year-old tightened his grip on the Wanamaker trophy with a sensational 294 yard drive that bounced off the edge of the green and rolled nicely toward the pin to set up an eagle from seven feet.
Morikawa read the putt to perfection, finding the centre of the cup and a two-stroke advantage over Paul Casey, who had climbed up to 11-under with a birdie earlier on the same hole. Casey dispatched the waiting bunch at 10-under home when he came in on four straight pars at 11-under 203.
The stage and the day belonged to Morikawa. Even though his long birdie putt at the 17th came tantalisingly close to dropping in the cup, the tap in par meant that he marched up to the 72nd hole with a two-stroke cushion over Casey.
Playing with characteristic accuracy, Morikawa completed business with the least fuss to secure his maiden major title. He is the first since Keegan Bradley in 2011 to win the PGA Championship on his first attempt and the ninth man to do so. Morikawa joins an elite group of golfers who won their first major within two starts – Ben Curtis (2003 Open Championship, 1st major start), Keegan Bradley (2011 PGA Championship, 1st start), Orville Moody (1969 US Open, 2nd start), Fred Daly (1947 Open Championship, 2nd start) and Bob Hamilton (1944 PGA Championship, 2nd start).