Collin Morikawa wins first PGA TOUR title at Barracuda Championship
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Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
Collin Morikawa wins at Barracuda Championship
Each year, a new crop of collegians turns professional to much fanfare. This group seemed especially highly-hyped, but they’ve proven it was for good reason.
Matthew Wolff needed just three starts to win the 3M Open, joining Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw as the only players to win an NCAA individual championship and PGA TOUR title in the same year.
Now, Collin Morikawa has joined Wolff in the winner’s circle. Morikawa birdied four of his final five holes Sunday to win the Barracuda Championship.
“I think I'm ready. This proves that I am ready,” Morikawa said after the win. “To get this first win off my back means a lot. It's going to open just a lot more confidence and doors for me.”
It was Morikawa’s third consecutive top-4 finish, including a runner-up to Wolff at the 3M. Morikawa is now 46th in the FedExCup, guaranteeing him starts in at least the first two Playoff events.
Morikawa’s frenetic finish gave him a three-point victory over Troy Merritt in the Barracuda’s Stableford format, where a birdie is worth two points.
Morikawa finished with 47 points. Merritt, the 54-hole leader, scored seven points Sunday. He leapt to 68th in the FedExCup standings with his runner-up finish.
Morikawa started the final round at Montreux Golf & Country Club in Reno, Nevada, in third place. He still had ground to make up after making just three birdies in his first 13 holes.
The tournament’s format, and Reno’s high altitude, mean aggressive play is necessary to win. A disappointing par at the reachable par-5 13th was an opportunity for Morikawa to gather himself.
“I just wasn't trusting myself. I wasn't taking my usual tempo, just got a little out of rhythm,” he said. “When I got to 14 tee, I … told myself, okay, we've got a lot of left, a lot of birdies, I've made a lot of birdies on these holes, just keep it going.”
He stuffed a 60-yard wedge shot to 7 feet on No. 14. Then he holed a 10-footer from the fringe on the par-3 16th and sank a 30-footer for birdie on 17. That was the longest putt he made all week. He finished it off with a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th.
The win continued an incredible run for the 22-year-old. Wolff eagled the 72nd-hole at the 3M to finish a shot ahead of Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau. Morikawa was in contention again at the John Deere Classic, making eagle on the second-to-last hole before finishing in fourth place, four back of winner Dylan Frittelli.
Fifteen of Morikawa’s past 17 rounds have been in the 60s, including 12 of his past 13. Six of his past seven rounds have been 66 or lower. He shot 22-under 266 at the Barracuda (66-69-66-65). He’s 46th in the FedExCup standings in just six starts as a professional.
Morikawa stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 170 pounds. Unlike some of his peers, he doesn’t impress by hitting the ball ungodly distances. Instead, it’s his pinpoint accuracy with his irons that has caught people’s attention during his brief pro career.
“His ball striking is so good. He’s basically a robot. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him hit a bad shot,” said fellow Cal alum Max Homa, the winner of this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.
Morikawa would lead the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation (74.1%) and Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (+1.42) if he had enough rounds to qualify for the statistical rankings.
He’d also lead the TOUR in scoring average (67.9) and birdies per round (4.9). He’d be second behind only Rory McIlroy in Strokes Gained: Total (+2.23). That stat measures how many strokes per round a player beats the field’s scoring average.
And Morikawa has accomplished it all while gaining just +0.19 strokes per round with his putter. He’d rank 100th on TOUR in that metric. In other words, Morikawa hasn’t been riding a hot putter to professional success. His iron play has been enough to carry him.
“He’s a phenomenal iron player. He doesn’t miss a distance,” said former TOUR winner Arron Oberholser, who covered Morikawa’s collegiate career as a Golf Channel broadcaster. “When you don’t miss distances, it means you have great trajectory control. The ball is launching through the same window pitching wedge through the 3-iron.”
Morikawa’s reputation for consistency preceded him turning professional. He had a sub-70 scoring average in his final three seasons of college golf. He finished over par in just two events over his final two years of college. In 72 rounds over that span, he shot higher than 72 just five times.
During an equipment-testing session in college, Morikawa was told that his dispersion pattern with a 6-iron was similar to most elite players’ pattern with a pitching wedge, according to his collegiate coach, Walter Chun.
“He’s just a very gifted ball-striker,” Chun said. “Let’s say you have a 7-iron to a pin tucked on the right, but the uphill putt is right of the pin. He’s good enough to fade it in there and leave himself the uphill putt.”
Stewart Hagestad, the former U.S. Mid-Am champ who played on the 2017 Walker Cup team, said Morikawa was the standout on a team that also included PGA TOUR winner Cameron Champ, Doc Redman, Maverick McNealy, Braden Thornberry and a handful of other highly-touted prospects.
“He has no weaknesses,” Hagestad said. “He believes in himself and has an infectious confidence.”
He showed that Sunday at the Barracuda Championship, where another young star was born.
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.