The spectacular shots helped, but Collin Morikawa won the PGA thanks to his steady play
There will be an understandable tendency to view Collin Morikawa’s victory at this weekend’s PGA Championship as the product of two decisive shots.
On the 454-yard par 4 14th at TPC Harding Park, mired in a multi-player tie for the lead, Morikawa left his mid-iron approach 10 yards short of the green. Staring at a bogey, Morikawa floated a chip that made a beeline for the hole, turning that bogey into a birdie — and the sole lead.
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Two holes later at the driveable 294 yard par 4 16th, Morikawa – tied with Paul Casey at the top — hit driver six feet below the flag and center-cut his eagle putt for a two-stroke lead that proved to be the eventual winning margin.
As vital as those two shots were to his victory, focusing too much on them misses the point of Morikawa’s week-long performance. He won this tournament not because of two spectacular shots, but because from start to finish he was the tournament’s steadiest player at many of the colorless but critical aspects of the game.
Consider some of those aspects.
Morikawa was first in driving accuracy for the week. The commentators talk up Harding Park as a driver’s course, but as with most majors hitting it long into very deep rough is not a viable Plan A. Morikawa, who Is not a long hitter, tied for 40th in driving distance, but was first in driving accuracy. He hit 39 of the 56 fairways, better than 70 percent.
Largely as a result of that accuracy, Morikawa overcame his distance disadvantage to finish 18th in Strokes Gained Off The Tee. He was also first in proximity, on Sunday leaving himself only one putt longer than 25 feet.
In the pressure cauldron of Sunday’s final round, Morikawa did miss a half dozen greens in regulation. But he played those six holes in one under par, highlighted of course by that chip-in birdie at the 14th. For the week, Morikawa found himself in four fairway bunkers. He made par on all four of those holes.
Lastly and most important, he was the week’s best putter. Morikawa’s Strokes Gained Putting score for the week was +8.076, almost two-thirds of his overall advantage on the field.
On the weekend, when he turned it on with rounds of 65 and 64, Morikawa required just 1.47 putts per hole, and navigated both rounds without a three-putt.
What Harding Park tested was a player’s full skill set, not merely his ability to drive the ball. Morikawa’s performance in the statistical categories amply illustrates that fact.
Of the dozen players who earned a top 10 finish Sunday night, he ranked next to last in raw driving distance and eighth in Strokes Gained Off the Tee. But it didn’t matter because the other aspects of his game worked in combination to give him the edge.
That should come as no surprise because Morikawa entered the week ranked second on Tour in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green.