Champion Golfer of the Year
It has been 725 days (it was not played in 2020) since the last rendition of Golf’s oldest Major Championship was played in Port Rush in Ireland and won by hometown boy Shane Lowry.
This year’s venue was at Royal St. Georges where we last saw beloved Irishman Darren Clarke capture his first and only Major Championship at Sandwich, England in 2011. It was a completely unexpected triumph for Clarke in the twilight of his career. Such are the fates that decide this precipitous game. This was the 149th playing of the game’s oldest and most revered Championship.
The leader after the first day was that redoubtable South African Luis Oosthuizen who’s brilliant 6-under 64 gave him a one shot cushion over Americans Jordan Spieth and Brain Harman. Oosthuizen has finished as the runner-up in the last two Majors, behind Mickelson in his iconic win at the PGA and Jon Rahm at the U.S. Open. The likeable 38-year old won this tournament in 2010 but since then has been the bridesmaid in Majors an incredible 6 times, while only winning “once” on golf’s biggest stages.
A shot being at 4-under were six players including the resurgent Americans, Stewart Cink (2009 Open Champion) who at 48 has already won twice on the PGA Tour this year and 2011 U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson. They were joined by Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, Frenchman Bernard Hébert and another South African, Dylan Frittelli.
Included In the Nascar group of 10 players at 3-under were Major winners Justin Rose and Collin Morikawa.
A staggering 47 players were under par after the opening salvo of day one on this venerable links course whose defense is the wind. If the placid conditions continued for the next three days an Open scoring record could be in the offing.
Bryson DeChambeau was not one of those players having recorded a 1-over 71 that left him steaming. Literally. The American star whose behavior at best is eccentric and at worst boorish had this to say after only hitting 4 fairways in his opening round: “If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that’s great, but with the driver right now, the driver sucks. It’s not a good face for me, and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits. I’m living on the razor’s edge, like I’ve told people for a long time.” DeChambeau is sponsored by, and plays with Cobra equipment (and has done for the last 5 years).
Mercifully, Cobra’s Tour Operation manager, Ben Schomin, responded and did so forcefully when he said: “Everybody is bending over backwards. We’ve got multiple guys in R&D who are CAD’ing (computer-aided design) this and CAD-ing that, trying to get this and that into the pipeline faster. (Bryson) knows it. It’s just really, really painful when he says something that stupid.”
Well said, Mr. Schomin.
Oosthuizen continued his year-long brilliance in Friday’s second round with a 5-under 65 to be at 11-under at the halfway mark. That would give him a two shot advantage over Morikawa who tied the day’s best score with a 6-under 64 and a scoring record of 129 for the lowest opening two-day total in Open history.
When the softly spoken Oosthuizen plays like he has been doing for the last two months, his equally graceful swing seems almost impenetrable. But the Open is rarely won with ball-striking alone, rather it is the short game and a players ability to scramble that determines the winner.
Spieth also continued his improved play after a 3-under 67 left him one behind Morikawa at 8-under.
Frittelli, at 7-under, was joined by world #1 Dustin Johnson and 25-year old American Scottie Scheffler.
Five unheralded players were tied in 7th at 6-under; England’s Andy Sullivan, German Marcel Siem, Argentinean Emiliano Grillo, and South Africans Justin Harding and Daniel van Tonder.
A stroke behind were Hughes, Englishman Paul Casey, American Cameron Tringale and two superstars, Brooke Koepka and U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm.
Saturdays’ third round presented the sternest test for the players with diabolical pin positions that punished even almost perfect shots.
The best score of the day, 4-under, reflected those conditions and was recorded by several players including Canada’s Corey Connors who finished the day at 8-under, tied for 4th with Scheffler. Hughes, Frittelli and Rahm were a stroke behind at 7-under.
Spieth spent most of the day tied for the lead with Oosthuizen before a couple of late round stumbles left him 1-under for the day and 9-under heading into Sunday. Spieth has enjoyed a remarkable comeback this year after two years in the doldrums. The now 27-year old Texan has tasted both the game’s greatest triumphs (4-Majors before his 24th birthday) and some of its most devastating lows (including a 2019 quote when he dejectedly said after another missed cut: “I just don’t know where it’s (the ball) going?”. His return to prominence started in February of this year https://www.birdgolf.com/the-comeback-kid/
Morikawa started slowly with two early bogies before rallying to record a 2-under, 68 and was alone in second at 1-under. One ahead was Oosthuizen whose steady 1-under 69, gave him another lead at 12-under heading into the finale.
Morikawa is also one of those rare players who seem to rise to the occasion and play their best on the biggest stages (like Koepka). This is only his 8th start in a Major but he finished in the top ten 3 times and was a winner in his first 7 attempts. Already a 5-time winner in his PGA Tour career, the Southern Californian, who plays with ice in his veins, seems destined for greatness.
After the opening 9 of Sunday’s round three players had separated themselves for the field. Oosthuizen had shot a pedestrian 1-over 36 to be at 11-under while Spieth played well and was 2-under for the day to be tied for second with the South African for the championship. That though was 3 behind Morikawa whose torrid 3-under front-9 gave him a commanding 3 shot advantage over Spieth at 14-under.
Spieth bridged the gap to one stroke with back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes before Morikawa extended his margin to 2 again with a birdie on the 14th. But Morikawa staved him off with superb par saves on the 15th and 16th holes.
The brilliant 24-year old American had played a stretch of 28 holes without making a bogey and a closing par gave him a 4 day total of 265, a superlative 15-under par that will surely go down as one of the most sublime performances in Open history.
Rahm charged home to finish at 11-under and tied with the luckless Oosthuizen for third. They were two behind Spieth at 13-under but The Champion Golfer for 2021 was undoubtedly Morikawa.