By Neil Leverett
- Collin Morikawa wins the 149th Open Championship by two strokes at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, Kent
- American claims second major, becoming first player to win two separate major tournaments on debut
- Louis Oosthuizen comes up short again, as Jordan Spieth finishes runner-up in memorable Open
SANDWICH, KENT – After Collin Morikawa claimed the Claret Jug at Royal St. George’s this past weekend, what did we learn from the 149th Open Championship?
A vintage Open
Links golf can’t be sexy. It can’t be enjoyable. It can’t be glorious. Can it? Yes. Yes it can. So too can Royal St. George’s.
Before this past week, many have often seen the only venue in the south of England that remains on the R&A rotation as one of its least popular. The 149th Open Championship however, has surely shattered those beliefs.
As the Open enjoyed one of its most memorable tournaments, the sun beat down on the Kent course with a golden shimmer, to the delight of both the players and fans alike, who lined the idyllic coastal town of Sandwich.
But though rain and wind were in short supply in the Garden of England, the test was pure and rugged, with the rough was still at its most punishing, retaining that feel of a very different major to any other on the calendar. This was links golf.
And the fans.
This current Open was memorable not just for the picture-postcard weather, but the return of spectators to golf on home shores, and in great and exuberant swathes.
Shelved for 12 months late last spring due to the pandemic, the tournament’s return this summer had been met with huge anticipation in the run-up to the event. How it delivered.
The returning galleries that populated Phil Mickelson’s PGA Championship win in May and Jon Rahm’s win at Torrey Pines may have been the mere hors d’oeuvres, but the The Open was fittingly the main course.
To see the grandstands on the 18th hole packed was a slightly anxiety-provoking sight in the current climate, but also one that gladdened the heart.
When the Open returns to the Home of Golf at St. Andrews next July for the 150th edition, that will no doubt be a special occasion, but it will still have to go some to topple the efforts of Royal St. Georges in 2021.
Unlike in previous trips to the Kent course, this time around, many will leave Royal St. George’s with special memories.
Its return, likely in 2030, cannot come soon enough.
Morikawa the toast of Sandwich
When Collin Morikawa won his first major in only his second attempt last August, the question was posed would his PGA Championship win at TPC Harding Park be just a one-off. Morikawa has emphatically stated his answer.
Adding the Claret Jug to his growing collection of wares, the 24-year-old from Los Angeles now has five professional wins to his name, and that total will now surely rise towards double figures.
But Morikawa is more than just an incredibly gifted golfer.
Putting together a round of 66 when it mattered, the Californian rose to his task majestically on Sunday, but within seconds of being crowned Champion Golfer of the Year, was already quick to commend those around him.
Congratulating Matthias Schmid on his being the lead amateur and taking home the Silver medal, Morikawa was warm in his reception for the many returning fans in attendance at Royal St. George’s also, that had taken a very likeable figure to their hearts.
A hugely popular winner, Morikawa was the toast of the small town of just short of 5,000 inhabitants, which just for one short week had swelled to over 100,000 across the competition.
You would be pressed to find a single one of whom, that would begrudge his victory.
Records tumble for golf’s newest star
Morikawa’s win has seen the achievements pile up for the man from the City of Angels, but they are by no means his first.
A player who mirrored Tiger Woods‘ feat of making the cut in his first 22 consecutive Tour events – the only two men to have done so – Morikawa has also in the past been the top-ranked World Amateur in the world, like Woods himself.
His Open win however, sees Morikawa become the first man in history to win two majors on debut, and only the third American after both Bobby Jones and Tom Watson, to win two major tournaments before the age of 28.
Having made his professional Tour debut at the RBC Canadian Open in 2019, it shouldn’t be forgotten also that Morikawa has only been on the pro Tour for little more than two years.
It is a remarkable rise to stardom and his accolades to come could be many.
Oosthuizen lacking killer instinct
For Louis Oosthuizen meanwhile, it is still six runners-up finishes in majors after falling to T3 on Sunday with Rahm, and after falling short again this weekend, seems to find it tough in getting over the line to claim his second crown.
Again for the South African its was largely a story of dominance across the four days, but crucially – and painfully – for the 2010 winner at St. Andrews, his final 26 holes were not a chapter in the same book.
Having led from the close of the opening round, the 38-year-old held sway over all who attempted to challenge him, until that is, the back nine on Saturday.
It was there the chinks in the Oosthuizen armour began to show. Having not dropped a single shot all tournament, a bogey came at 14 and the leader had to steel himself to prevent a back-to-back double drop, sinking an eight-foot putt for par.
When he then birdied 16 with a glorious iron approach, Oosthuizen went into Sunday with a one stroke lead, but again, it did not prove enough.
Few can deny that Oosthuizen’s play in majors perhaps merits him finally ending his 11-year wait for another of the big four, but there seems to be a lack of killer instinct in a very personable character.
When at one point in his third round, Oosthuizen looked poised to move away from the field, he failed to capitalise, seeing a rampant Morikawa sneak up and eventually overhaul him in the standings over the final 18.
With the major season now over, Mossel Bay’s most famous son will look back on the 2021 campaign with regrets aplenty and will have to wait until April of next year to remedy those feelings.
The drought can be broken however, and Oosthuizen knows it, but do to so, perhaps Oosthuizen needs to get a little bit ruthless.
Spieth is back
As Morikawa rises to the top of the game, one man who has tasted the position of the golf’s newest shining star, would have watched his compatriot claim the Claret Jug in Kent with wry smile of what might have been.
But make no mistake, Jordan Spieth is back after a spell in the golfing wilderness.
Having won back-to-back majors in The Masters and US Open in 2015, Spieth rose to prominence and at one point seemed unbeatable.
After a 2016 horror show in defending the Green Jacket however, a run of woe followed, but his Open win at Royal Birkdale four years ago was expected to be a springboard.
From that point on however, the Texan slipped down the rankings at an alarming rate to drop outside the top 100 and until April, had not won a Tour event in four seasons.
Finishing just two shots off Morikawa here though, Spieth showed signs of his very best.
Embarking on birdie surges aplenty, the 27-year-old was battling at the top of the leaderboard on Saturday and had it not been for a 5-5 finish during his third round, the Dallas native would have gone into the final 18 holes tied for the lead.
Though that may irk the three-time major winner for a time here, Spieth should so do in the knowledge that he is back at the top of the leaderboard, where he should be.
Furthermore though, and with the Ryder Cup to come in just over two months’ time at Whistling Straits, Europe should be very wary indeed.
The 2021 FedEx Cup finals conclude with the Tour Championship at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 2nd.
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