Golfers competing at the World Golf Championship event at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida, last Sunday paid tribute to Tiger Woods — who is recovering from injuries following a car accident — by wearing his signature red shirt and black pants.
La Cañada Flintridge native Collin Morikawa planned on doing the same but his threads didn’t arrive on time due to a shipping delay, forcing him to honor the legendary athlete a different way.
“My agent said even though the shirt wasn’t there, go out there and play like Tiger would with the lead,” he said. “I think I did.”
Morikawa, 24, held on to win the WGC-Workday Championship and claim his fourth PGA Tour title. He carried a 54-hole lead and finished 18-under par, edging out Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel, all of whom tied for second at 15-under.
“No matter what anyone says, sleeping on a lead has its pressure, has its nerves,” said Morikawa, who bagged $1.82 million with the victory. “But I was excited to get back in contention, to have a chance to win. It’s something that I miss. Obviously, I haven’t had it for a while, but this is what we love to do. We love to win.”
The La Cañada High School graduate continues to take the golf world by storm, joining Woods as the only players to win a WGC event and a major before turning 25. Morikawa is also the seventh player to win at least four PGA Tour events, including a major championship, before the age of 25. Other players who accomplished such a feat were Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jerry Pate.
A fourth PGA win shot Morikawa up to No. 4 in the official World Golf Ranking and 14th in the FedEx Cup standings.
“Collin’s got an unbelievable game,” Horschel said on Sunday. “His ball striking, iron play since he stepped out on Tour has been top-five, top-10 on tour; no doubt about it. I think he seemed to figure out his putting.”
Morikawa made 27 birdies, more than any player in what was a field stacked with the best golfers in the world. He climbed up the leaderboard with an impressive nine birdies in the second round on Friday. The young golfer carried his stellar play into Saturday and moved up to the top spot with a two-stroke lead over Horschel.
On Sunday, the pressure didn’t get to Morikawa, who made a key putt for par on the 11th hole to maintain his lead and followed that with a birdie on 12.
“Yeah, huge putts on 11 and 12,” said Morikawa, who graduated from La Cañada High School in 2015 and was a four-time Rio Hondo League champion. “Those were ones that really gave me slight separation.”
After winning the PGA Championship last August, Morikawa admitted he became complacent and hit a rough patch, missing the cut twice, including the U.S. Open, and recently tying for 43rd at the Genesis Invitational. It served as a wake-up call, and he had a serious conversation with his coach and then “reset” before the Masters to recapture his competitive spirit.
“Even though I know the scores were really low, I don’t want to miss cuts,” said Morikawa, who was the Pac-12 Player of the Year while at Cal. “It’s just no fun. We like to play weekends, no matter what.
“I was getting lazy. I was getting a sense of where I didn’t want to just be the best every single week. And that doesn’t mean I wasn’t practicing right or it doesn’t mean all this, it was just a mental state of, you know, coming out, being ready to play great golf Thursday through Sunday.”
The former Spartan’s inspired play last weekend came after losing his grandfather and the news of his hero surviving a car accident.
“Tiger means everything to me,” an emotional Morikawa said after the victory. “And yes, he had the crash and thankfully he’s all right and hopefully he has a quick and great recovery, but I don’t think we say thank you enough. So I want to say thank you to Tiger, because sometimes you lose people too early [like] Kobe [Bryant]. I lost my grandpa about a month ago, and you don’t get to say thank you enough, so thank you guys.”
ANOTHER SPARTAN ON THE FIELD
Morikawa wasn’t the only LCHS graduate to participate in the WGC-Workday Championship. David Lipsky was in Florida competing against a fellow Spartan and tied for 48th place with three strokes above par.
The 2006 graduate was tied with Morikawa at two-under par through the first round with two birdies and no bogeys, but struggled with four bogeys and a double bogey to card four-above par on Friday. Lipsky finished strong with three birdies in the final round on Sunday and took home $44,500 of the prize money.
As a professional, the Northwestern product won four titles, two in Europe and two more in Asia. He also won the TPC San Antonio Challenge back in July.