By Tom LaMarre
Collin Morikawa is ready to defend his title this week in the 103rd PGA Championship, even though he claimed his first major championship only last August in a season that different than any other because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The 24-year-old Morikawa, from La Canada Flintridge and the University of California, won the title by two strokes in his first PGA, virtually at home at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco after it was moved back from its normal date on the schedule because of Covid-19.
Morikawa got his first look at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort in Kiawah Island, S.C., on Media Day a day after tying for 18th in the Masters in April.
“I think it’s definitely a ball striker’s course,” said Morikawa, who is No. 6 in the World Golf Rankings. “You have to be able to control your ball. You have to be able to flight different shots, work it left to right, right to left, and that kind of suits me.
“The greens are pretty small, but man, talk about that back nine, starting from hole No. 9 and on, it’s a very good finishing stretch of golf, especially with the wind, the way it picked up. You’re going to be tested on every shot.”
Morikawa has shown his victory in the 2020 PGA was no fluke, winning the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession in March before contending in the Masters.
That victory was the fourth of his PGA Tour career, which began in the summer of 2019 after he left Cal.
“Yeah, actually the game feels really good,” Morikawa said. “The game felt really good after the win at the WGC-Workday at Concession. Still a few things I need to tweak here and there.
“The game at Augusta felt really good, just made too many mistakes. Out there mistakes are going to happen, but I can’t be giving away shots like I did, but I learned a lot out there. We’re peaking at a good time, and we’re really looking forward to this kind of next few months of golf because there’s a lot of good golf to be played.”
Seventh-ranked Rory McIlroy, who ended a nearly two-year winless streak by winning the Wells Fargo Championship is the favorite this week, having claimed one of his four major titles and the first of his two PGAs in by eight strokes 2012 at Kiawah Island.
Also on the oddsmakers’ lists are the other three reigning major champions—Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who won the Masters last month, U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis, ranked fifth, and Shane Lowry of Ireland, who won the 2019 Open Championship but was unable to defend last year because the tournament was cancelled because of Covid-19.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson hasn’t been playing his best lately, but can turn his game around at any time and is playing in his home state, while second-ranked Justin Thomas always is a threat and third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain is seeking his first major title.
The rest of the top 10 in the World Rankings also will be there, including No. 4 Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, No. 8 Patrick Reed, No. 9 Tyrrell Hatton of England and No. 10 Webb Simpson.
Also worth watching are young Viktor Hovland of Norway, four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Cameron Smith of Australia, Joaquin Niemann of Chile, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood of England, who surprisingly has never won a major but is playing some of the best golf of his career.
Jordan Spieth, who ended a four-year winless streak by winning the Valero Texas Open last month before tying for third in the Masters, can join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player of South Africa, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the PGA Championship.
For now, they all want the Wanamaker Trophy, but Morikawa has it and wants to make like Koepka, who won it back-to-back in 2018 and 2019.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Not only did he end a nearly two-year winless streak by capturing the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks, ago the seventh-ranked McIlroy claimed the first of his four major titles in the 2012 PGA at Kiawah Island. He also won the 2014 PGA at Valhalla, but is winless in the majors since, despite 12 top-10s.
- Justin Thomas, United States – The second-ranked Thomas claimed his only major victory in the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, and he has four other top-10 results in the Grand Slam events. He has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including his 16th victory as a pro in the Players Championship.
- Jordan Spieth, United States – Having broken a four-year winless streak by winning the Valero Texas Open last month, Spieth will try to become the sixth player to complete the Career Grand Slam by winning the PGA. He has won each of the other three majors once. Spieth has placed in the top 10 in six of his last eight tournaments this season.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – The third-ranked Rahm still is seeking his first major victory, although he has six top-10 finishes in the Grand Slam events. The best was a tie for third in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and he also tied for fourth in the PGA last year at TPC Harding Park. Rahm hasn’t won this year, with nine top-10 finishes, so he is due.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – The top-ranked Johnson has been in a bit of a slump since winning the Masters last December and the Saudi International on the Euro Tour in February, but should be ready to break out of it. DJ also won the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont and his 20 top-10s in majors include seconds in the PGA the last two years.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – The reigning U.S. Open champion, having won that title last September, added a second victory of this season in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and has six top-10 finishes. The fifth-ranked DeChambeau was tied for the lead in the final round of the 2020 PGA at TPC Harding Park before tying for fourth.
- Collin Morikawa, United States – Having won his first major championship in the PGA Championship last August at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, the sixth-ranked Morikawa will try to emulate Brooks Koepka (2018-19) and win the Wanamaker Trophy twice in a row. Has four top 10s this season, including a victory in the WGC-Workday.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – After becoming the first Japanese golfer to win the Masters last month, Matsuyama headed home for a national celebration, and returned last week to finish solo 39th in the AT&T Byron Nelson. His victory came after seven top-10s in the majors, including ties for fourth and then fifth in the 2016 and 2017 PGAs.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – The fourth-ranked Schauffele is still seeking his first victory in the majors, having posted eight top-10 finishes in the Grand Slam events, the best ties for second in the 2019 Masters and the 2018 Open Championship. He has not won yet this season, but has six top-10 results, including three runner-up finishes.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – The 23-year-old has climbed to No. 11 in the world after winning the Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Classic last year, plus recording six top-10 finishes this season on the PGA Tour, including two seconds. Hovland’s best rest result in a major was a tie for 12th as the low amateur in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Patrick Cantlay, United States; Tyrrell Hatton, England; Cameron Smith, Australia; Joaquin Niemann, Chile; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Branden Grace, South Africa; Webb Simpson, United States; Patrick Reed, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia; Phil Mickelson, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Finished second in the Wells Fargo recently and has four T-10s and 11 T-25s this season. Was T-13 in the 2020 Masters, T-16 in the 2019 PGA.
- Robert MacIntrye, Scotland – Two-time winner in Europe was T-12 in Masters last month, third in Dubai, T-8 in British Masters. Best major result was T-6 in 2019 Open.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – Two-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour was T-4 in 2020 PGA at TPC Harding Park. Scheffler has four T-10s, seven T-25s this season.
- Will Zalatoris, United States – The 24-year-old, who won on 2020 Korn Ferry Tour, was second in the Masters last month and T-6 in the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa – Seven-time winner as a pro, three last year, finished T-7 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Shot 72-70 and missed cut in 2020 PGA.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html