So that was our reward for waiting 13 months for another major championship: A classy champion in Collin Morikawa, doing legendary things on the back nine to break out of a star-studded, seven-player logjam.
Even without fans, TPC Harding Park delivered a memorable PGA Championship with high drama and plenty to chew on before the boys get back to major business Sept. 17 at Winged Foot.
Here are some takeaways from the first major of the year:
Collin Morikawa is who we thought he was: Special
Fourteen months into his pro career, Morikawa had already established himself as one of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers, but his shaky putting remained a question mark. Now we know what he’s capable of when his flatstick cooperates – he led the field in putting on his way to beating the strongest field of any of the four majors.
Still just 23, and with fewer than 30 career starts, you may be wondering if this is too much too soon for Morikawa. The short answer: Not at all. He was built for this; it’s the reason why he stayed at Cal all four years. He’s confident, comfortable and as prepared as possible. Little wonder his peers continue to cite his remarkable poise and maturity.
Morikawa could ascend to No. 1 as soon as next week. Not since Tiger Woods, in early 1997, has a player reached that position so quickly.
A limited schedule is hurting Tiger Woods’ major chances
For the second straight tournament, Woods showed some rust and never factored on the weekend. Not a single aspect of his game was sharp at TPC Harding Park, and that was to be expected – he has just eight competitive rounds since February. Until he ramps up his schedule, it’s hard to imagine him challenging for the biggest trophies in the game against the deepest fields.
It’s worth remembering that Woods made five starts in the run-up to his 2019 Masters victory. He played his way into game shape and reaped the benefits, even if it later took a toll on his battered body.
For the past several months Woods has been “gearing up” his body to handle a heavy workload this fall, with the possibility of playing three events in a row during the FedExCup Playoffs. Reps, not rest – that’s exactly what he needs to have any chance at the U.S. Open.
Brooks Koepka occasionally misfires – but he won’t stop shooting
Koepka’s new advertising campaign centers around the tagline, “You can’t out-troll a troll.” But when you swing, you best not miss, and social media delighted in Koepka’s Sunday freefall at the PGA after what some thought was an unnecessary potshot at his one-time friend, Dustin Johnson.
It’s not the first time that Koepka has taken aim at another player – here’s looking at you, Bryson, Rory and Sergio – and certainly won’t be the last. Brutal honesty has become Koepka’s hallmark, and he’s not interested in being popular or making friends.
That might make others uncomfortable, but the verbal jousting typically brings out Koepka’s best golf.
Dustin Johnson’s next major title will come from behind
Maybe Koepka was right about one thing, because DJ made the wrong kind of history Sunday: He’s the first player to blow his first four 54-hole leads in a major. At least Johnson didn’t suffer another epic meltdown. He didn’t shoot another 82 or ground his club in another bunker. He didn’t pump another 2-iron out of bounds or have another three-putt on the 72nd hole. But he also wasn’t crisp during the most scorable day of the week, and, for one of the game’s most natural talents, seemed surprisingly indecisive on the greens.
Now 36, Johnson is too talented to end his Hall of Fame career with only one major title, but it’s unlikely he’ll add to his total as a frontrunner. At this point, he’d have to be historically resilient.
Bryson DeChambeau’s brawny experiment: A success!
As DeChambeau bashed his way to a victory and several other high finishes during the Tour restart, the common refrain was, Yeah, but can he do it in a major? After all, he’d never finished better than 15th in the game’s biggest events.
That question was answered resoundingly. Yes, he can do it. In his first start, even.
After transforming his body and game, he had a putt to share the lead on 16 and eventually tied for fourth. Winged Foot figures to be an even more exacting test, with deeper and more uniform rough, but DeChambeau and his nuclear driver showed he can be a threat anywhere. He’ll be especially dangerous at Augusta National, and he has three months to dial in those wedges.
A fan-less major is still compelling TV
Consider us pleasantly surprised that the viewer experience wasn’t all that much different without fans in attendance at TPC Harding Park. Would a packed house have been better? Of course. They would have been delirious trying to keep up with all of the scoring updates on a wild Sunday in which nine different players held at least a share of the lead. The grounds would have been shaking after Morikawa’s instantly iconic drive to 7 feet on 16.
But from this seat, at least, it was plenty dramatic even in silence. In many ways, the quiet only heightened the tension; it made every putt feel that much more important.
Looking ahead, the U.S. Open is the championship that’d be least likely impacted by a fan-less atmosphere. The soundtrack to that event is not roars but rather moans, groans and expletives. A brutal test at Winged Foot should be no exception.
Kerry Haigh is the GOAT setup man
Paul Casey paid the PGA of America’s Kerry Haigh the ultimate compliment Sunday when he said that he didn’t know who set up Harding Park, but that it was perfectly executed.
And that’s how it should be.
Setup men should be in the background, not the limelight, letting their work speak for itself.
Year after year, Haigh has nailed the PGA setup, mapping out a compelling mix of difficult holes and scoring opportunities. That was especially true in the final round, with several pins on the back nine cut in bowls and the 16th hole made drivable for everyone in the field. Harding Park isn’t the most demanding venue, but the spotty 3 1/2-inch rough created just enough uncertainty.
A tip of the cap – again – to the best setup man in the game.
Phil Mickelson has eyes on his future
Why was Mickelson in the TV tower Saturday at the PGA? All he’d say afterward was that he had some time to kill and it “just worked out,” but he wasn’t in the CBS booth for a block or two. He wore the headset for more than an hour, calling the action and trading barbs with lead analyst Nick Faldo. To us, it seemed pretty obvious that Mickelson was auditioning for a future broadcasting role.
The timing was curious, since Mickelson was coming off a tie for second at last week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his third top-3 of the year. At 50, he’s still highly competitive, if maddeningly inconsistent, but perhaps he’s looking a few years down the road. Networks will offer him a blank check if (or when) he wants to make the leap into TV.