SAN FRANCISCO — All week, the talk at this PGA Championship was about the big hitters and how much of an advantage they’d have at TPC Harding Park, which players were calling “a big-boy golf course.’’
All week, 23-year-old Collin Morikawa, slight of build when compared to the brutes like Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau and others, quietly kept going about his business — plodding along, dissecting the golf course, doing preciously little wrong.
And then, on a final-round Sunday that featured a see-sawing leaderboard more congested with potential winners than freeway traffic on a Friday rush hour in the Los Angeles area where Morikawa was raised, Morikawa emerged as the winner.
He closed with a brilliant 6-under 64, tying the lowest score posted all week, and finished on 13-under for the tournament.
A little more than a year ago, Morikawa was still in college at Cal-Berkeley.
Now he’s a major champion and a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, two of them having come since June.
What a stunning and rapid rise to stardom.
From the start of Sunday’s final round, this always was going to be a shootout. Picking the winner would be an exercise in futility, a true crapshoot.
It was simply a matter of which compelling storyline was going to emerge victorious after 72 holes at what proved to be a city public course game for a major championship in TPC Harding Park.
In the end, it was Morikawa who punched the gas on the back nine and separated himself.
He snapped a seven-way tie at 10-under on the back nine when he chipped in for birdie on No. 14 to get to 11-under and take the lead alone. And that was just the beginning.
Paul Casey, the 43-year-old Englishman playing in his 64th career major championship and seeking his first victory, caught Morikawa at 11-under with a birdie on the short par-4 16th hole.
Morikawa, playing in the group behind Casey, calmly answered minutes later by driving the 16th green and leaving himself seven feet for eagle. Morikawa made the putt, true the whole way into the jar, to take a two-shot lead to the 17th tee.
“What a shot he hit on 16,’’ Casey said. “Awesome show. There’s nothing you can do other than tip your cap to that.’’
Morikawa would never look back from there.
In his wake, Morikawa left broken hearts and wills strewn all over Harding Park, beginning with Dustin Johnson, who took his fourth 54-hole lead into a major championship Sunday carrying not only 0-for-3 baggage but an aggressive bit of trolling from his supposed friend, Brooks Koepka, the night before.
Johnson, who entered the day at 9-under with a one-shot lead, had taken leads into the final rounds of the 2010, 2015 and 2018 U.S. Opens and failed to win any of them (finishing those T-8, T-2 and third, respectively). He was trying to avoid becoming the first player ever to go 0-for-4 when holding a 54-hole lead in a major, but did not, and now owns that dubious distinction.
The only players with as many leads entering the fourth round of a major since 2010 were Jordan Spieth (6) and Rory McIlroy (5). Spieth converted 3 of 6 while McIlroy converted 4 of 5.
Koepka, after the third round on Saturday, curiously threw shade at Johnson in several post-round interviews.
First, he said: “A lot of the guys on the leaderboard, I don’t think have won, I guess DJ has only won one.’’
Later, he told Golf Channel: “DJ has been in this spot a lot of times and he hasn’t been able to capitalize.’’
If you believe in karma, then you delighted in seeing Koepka, bidding to become the first player in more than 90 years to win three consecutive PGA Championships, struggle to a final-round 74 to finish 3-under for the week.
He faded from contention quickly, with four bogeys on the front nine, making the turn in 39.
It was a stunning fall from contention for Koepka, who’d sounded so cocksure all week, particularly on Saturday night when he assessed the leaderboard and counted just three major championship winners with one among the top-12 compared to him and his four majors.
Koepka, in his previous five four majors, had finished no worse than fourth. Sunday’s finish put an end to that streak.
Finau, who’s drawn recent scrutiny for his inability to closer out tournaments, having produced a remarkable 30 Top-10 finishes since his long career PGA Tour victory in 2016, made a game run with a final-round 66 to get to 10-under. But it wasn’t enough.