Young PGA Tour phenom Collin Morikawa showed a penchant for redemption on Sunday at Muirfield Village Golf Club, best known for its close association to course creator and golf legend Jack Nicklaus, when he erased a late deficit and took down world No. 5 Justin Thomas in a thrilling three-hole playoff to claim the Workday Charity Open.
There is a long, stunning list of what the 23-year-old Cal product had to bounce back from to win his second Tour event in just his 24th career start. Last month at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first event played since the three-month COVID-layoff, Morikawa lost a playoff to Daniel Berger in heartbreaking fashion when he had a three-foot putt lip out. He struggled in his next event, finishing T64 at the RBC Heritage, before missing the cut two weeks ago at the Travelers Championship, ending a streak of 22 straight made cuts to begin his career, just three short of the record set by Tiger Woods.
And it doesn’t end there. In his first event since that missed cut, Morikawa led this week’s Workday Charity Open after the first and second rounds, but a third round even-par 72 dropped him from a three-stroke lead to a four-stroke deficit heading into the final round.
To win on Sunday, he would need to overtake Thomas, who did not card a single bogey over his first three rounds, had won twice on Tour this season, and was looking for his 13th career victory, which would put him on a list with Jack and Tiger as the only two players to reach that many victories before the age of 27 since the early 60s. On top of that, he was STILL three strokes back of Thomas with just three to go.
But he forced a playoff, and then he won. He was able to shake off when his par putt on 18 to force the playoff circled the cup before falling in, bringing up memories of what happened at Colonial last month. He was then able to stay composed on the first playoff hole when Thomas emphatically sunk a 50-foot left-to-right birdie putt, sinking a 24-footer of his own.
Then, when Thomas left an opening on the third playoff hole by landing his drive behind a tree, Morikawa took advantage, and claimed the title.
With a Sunday 6-under 66, Morikawa reached 19-under for the week, and after winning last season’s Barracuda Championship, he now has more victories in his career (2) than missed cuts (1), the first time since Tiger in ‘96 that a player notched their second career victory before missing their second career cut. Tiger won 43 events before his second missed cut, but it would be unfair to hold Morikawa, or anyone, to that kind of standard. What he has done in just over a year on Tour has been undoubtedly impressive.
If the Workday Charity Open sounds unfamiliar, it is not because of a sponsor change: it was basically put together at the last minute. In the midst of all the schedule reshuffling with the coronavirus layoff, the John Deere Classic, which normally is held the week before The Memorial Tournament was cancelled, and the Tour replaced the void with the Workday Charity Open, meaning two consecutive weeks of Tour events being held at the same course. Morikawa won what will likely be the only edition of the tournament on the big tour.
Tee times were moved up five hours on Sunday due to incoming storms in the Dublin, Ohio area. In addition, players were grouped into threes starting on both the first and 10th tees, which meant that Morikawa, who was in third place through three rounds, played in the final grouping with Thomas and Viktor Hovland.
Morikawa erased his three-shot deficit very rapidly. While Thomas bogeyed two and three, his first two bogeys of the entire week, and was still 2-over through five, Morikawa birdied Nos. 2 and 4, and then eagled the par-5 fifth, and at 4-under through five, suddenly he held a one-stroke advantage. That torrid start could have been even better: his tee shot bounced off the flagstick on the par-3 4th, landing just a foot from the hole. Then on 5, his second shot settled just three feet from the hole, on what could have been an albatross.
Morikawa then slowed down some, parring the next six holes as Thomas birdied four consecutive holes (8, 9, 10, and 11) to reclaim the lead. One stroke back of Thomas heading into the par-5 15th, Morikawa hit his drive into the rough, and then hit a horrendous second that traveled less than 100 yards. He settled for par while Thomas hit a 23-foot eagle putt. Suddenly, the lead was three with three to go, and it looked all but over.
However, Morikawa got a stroke closer to the lead when he parred 16 and Thomas bogeyed. Then, he gained another when he birdied 17. With one hole remaining, Morikawa was now just one back. Thomas got in trouble off the tee on 18, while Morikawa landed safely in the fairway. Morikawa had a chance to end the tournament on the 72nd hole, but narrowly missed his birdie attempt from 17 feet. When Thomas missed his par putt from 12 feet, a playoff that looked very unlikely just a short time earlier became a reality.
Thomas shot a 3-under 69 for his Sunday round, and in the process, was the only player in the field to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
Both Morikawa and Thomas birdied their first playoff hole (the 18th) despite poor drives, with both sinking long putts. Going back to 18th, both players parred again after Morikawa missed a putt to end the playoff. The third playoff hole was played on the par-4 10th, which Thomas had birdied earlier, but driving behind a tree forced a layup that gave Morikawa an enormous advantage that he did not relinquish. A par, followed by a missed par putt from Thomas ended the event after three exciting playoff holes.
The day was mostly a three-man race between Morikawa, Thomas, and Hovland, who started hot and then faded. Morikawa will attempt to win the unlikely back-to-back at Muirfield at next week’s Memorial Tournament, a course he had not played on Tour before this week.
Final Top-10 Finishers
Pos-Name-To Par (Final Rd)
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Collin Morikawa -19 (-6)
2. Justin Thomas -19 (-3)
3. Viktor Hovland -15 (-1)
4. Chase Seiffert -14 (-5)
4. Gary Woodland -12 (-3)
5. Ian Poulter -12 (-2)
7. Kevin Streelman -11 (E)
7. Jason Day -11 (-5)
7. Billy Horschel -11 (-6)
7. Sam Ryder -11 (-3)
7. Charley Hoffman -11 (-5)
7. Patrick Cantlay -11 (-7)
7. Russell Henley -11 (-5)
Final Stat Leaders
Driving: MJ Daffue (313.5)
Fairways: Jerry Kelly (50/56, 89.3%)
Greens: Hideki Matsuyama (57/72, 79.2%)
Putts/GIR: Collin Morikawa (84/1.585)
Birdies: Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland (24)
How Collin Morikawa Won the Workday Charity Open
Staying composed and outlasting Thomas – one of the best players in the world, was impressive, but it also helped greatly that he shot three rounds of 66 or better on the week, which greatly mitigated the damage from his Saturday even-par 72.
Not many players, let alone players as young as Morikawa, have shown the ability to bounce back from disappointments the way he has.
Morikawa’s 24 birdies tied the field low for the week, and he added a Sunday eagle as well. He did have nine bogeys for the week, but seven of those were in the middle rounds. He finished third in the field in strokes gained: approach-the-green and strokes gained: tee-to-green, gaining nearly six strokes to the field in both of those statistics in the final round.
Morikawa’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 297.6 (19th)
Fairways: 71.43%, 40/56 (19th)
Greens: 73.61%, 53/72 (6th)
Putts/Per GIR: 84/1.585 (1st)
Scores: 2 Eagles, 24 Birdies, 37 Pars, 9 Bogeys
Off the Tee: 3.532 (6th)
Approach the Green: 9.211 (3rd)
Tee to Green: 12.807 (3rd)
Putting: 4.729 (13th)
Total: 17.535 (1st)
What It Means For Morikawa
It means his star continues to rise. With the win, his world ranking jumped from 29th to 13th, which is phenomenal given the smaller sample size going into the world ranking formula. He also jumps to sixth in the FedExCup standings.
A season ago, he reached the second round of the FedExCup playoffs despite only having seven qualifying events.
His short game needs more refinement, but he is currently the Tour leader in strokes gained: approach-the-green and has shown ball-striking skill well beyond his years.
Morikawa’s 2019-20 Season
Cuts Made: 14
Wins: 1 (Workday Open)
Additional Top 10: 4
Earnings: $1,918,049 (25)
FedExCup Pts: 747 (21)
World Rank Before/After: 29/13
Some serious rust may have been shaken off on Sunday. Pre-COVID Jon Rahm had been on an absolute tear. From last June’s U.S. Open, where he finished T3, until the beginning of coronavirus layoff in mid-March, the 25-year-old Spaniard had two wins among 10(!) top-3 finishes worldwide, elevating to World No. 2 in the process.
However, he had not looked the same since golf resumed, with a missed cut followed by finishes of T33 and T37 respectively, in three starts, all on the PGA Tour. Through 54 holes at Muirfield, he was 1-over and 17 strokes back of Thomas’ lead, but in the final round, he made a huge charge up the final leaderboard, carding eight birdies and an eagle in an 8-under 64 that jumped him 35 spots from 62nd to T27. It was the lowest round of the final day and tied for the lowest round of the tournament.
Patrick Cantlay will be the defending champion at next week’s Memorial Tournament, and if his Sunday is any indication, there is a good chance he gets well into the mix again. The World No. 8 used an early tear – he played Nos. 2-5 birdie, birdie, birdie eagle – to post a 7-under 65 and vault from T33 to T7.
The 28-year-old, who also has a solo-4th among his three previous starts at Muirfield, was remarkably consistent a year ago, posting nine top 10s and 17 top 25s in just 21 starts a year ago. He has now gone T11-T7 in his two post-COVID outings.
Chase Seiffert is not well-known among golf fans, but if he continues to play the way he did today, that will change quickly. The 28-year-old Florida State product, whose college teammates included 4-time major champion Brooks Koepka and recent Tour winner Daniel Berger, had made just 20 career starts coming into the week, and in his last five starts, posted results of T71, T50, T52, MC, MC respectively.
Seiffert now has a solo-fourth place finish to add to that resume. He used five front-nine birdies to get himself on the fringes of contention, and when he hit 6-under through 12, he was really the only other name in the mix after the big three. He did not close remarkably, but his 5-under 67 got him to 14-under for the week, and the fourth-place finish got him into the field for next week’s Muirfield event.
Like Morikawa, Viktor Hovland was a former world No. 1 amateur who turned pro last summer, is in his early 20s and is already on the cusp of golf stardom. At T12, he was the low amateur at last year’s U.S. Open, breaking a Nicklaus scoring record in the process, and notched his first win back in February when he claimed victory at the Puerto Rico Open.
Through 54 holes, Hovland was in solo-second place at 14-under, two back of Thomas, and one up on Morikawa. The 22-year-old from Norway also got off to a blazing start, with birdies on Nos. 3, 4, and 5 to assert himself as a Sunday contender.
However, Hovland largely fell off after a bogey on the sixth hole. He got very choppy on the back, playing it in 1-over, and by the closing stretch, was closer to falling out of the top three than re-claiming the lead.
His 1-under 71 meant a third-place finish. Still, there is a lot for him to build on. He is the only player on Tour to have made the cut in all five post-COVID Tour events, and has not played a single one of those 20 rounds over par. He has also finished first in strokes gained: tee-to-green three consecutive weeks.
Hideki Matsuyama got his first career Tour victory at Muirfield, taking the 2014 edition in a playoff as a 22-year-old. The Japanese star had a three-win season in 2016, had seen his play stumble in the two years since, but had been rising again in the 2020 season, with early finishes of solo-second and T3, and he was the first-round leader at THE PLAYERS Championship before the tournament got called off for the start of the coronavirus layoff.
He has not had his best since play resumed, but was trending upwards after a 67-68 start at the Workday Charity Open. Unfortunately for Matsuyama, his play grounded to halt with an even-par 72 on Saturday, and he was even worse on Sunday, cancelling out five birdies with four bogeys and a double to shoot a 1-over 73, dropping him from T7 to T22.
Shooting one stroke worse than Matusyama was LSU product Sam Burns. The 23-year-old began the final day in a share of fourth place, five strokes back of Thomas, but he basically tanked his chance at his first professional victory on the first hole, when troubles around the green led to a triple-bogey.
Burns shot a 2-over 74 to fall to T17. On the plus side, he has finished 9-under or better in three straight starts, so his time could be coming soon.
“Throughout the playoff I got a lot more comfortable, especially after that playoff at Colonial, I felt a lot more comfortable now, but I felt WAY more comfortable after making that birdie putt on the first playoff hole. I mean, it was huge; I had to make it after he made it. And from there on, I knew: hit fairways, hit greens, put the pressure on him; he obviously had a chance on that second hole playoff, but I’m happy.”
– Collin Morikawa, Workday Charity Open Champion