Collin Morikawa halts winless string with stunning Sunday and six-shot win in Zozo
Collin Morikawa celebrates winning the tournament on the 18th green during the final round of Zozo Championship.
Collin Morikawa is a Los Angeles guy through and through. He was born in L.A., grew up in the suburb of La Canada Flintridge, honed his game at public courses all around the Southland, and bleeds Dodger blue and Laker purple. His Japanese heritage? Considering the great grandparents on his dad’s side moved to Hawaii decades ago, the golfer admits he hadn’t thought much about family lineage until the PGA Tour started playing the Zozo Championship in 2019 at Narashino Country Club, 60 miles east of Tokyo.
Even during this week at the Zozo, as Morikawa moved into contention, he downplayed what it might mean for him to win in Japan. “Look,” he said, “a win’s a win. I’ll take it anywhere, right?”
Spoken like a man who hadn’t lifted a trophy on the PGA Tour since July 2021, when the 26-year-old captured his second major in his inaugural Open Championship start at Royal St. George’s. Morikawa also won the DP World Tour Championship late in ’21, but since then had some big misses on Sundays, with four runners-up, including blowing a six-shot lead at the 2023 season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions and falling over the summer in a playoff in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where Rickie Fowler ended his own long dry spell.
As it turned out, Morikawa’s six-shot victory on Sunday in the Zozo—forged with a nearly flawless seven-under 63 as much of America slept—created deep satisfaction for the World No. 20 on numerous levels. He snapped his winless streak in his last official tour start of ’23, created tremendous confidence heading into the new year and cemented his standing as yet another hero in Japan golf.
Consider the small island country’s golf bounty of late: Tiger Woods won the inaugural Zozo Championship in 2019 for his record-tying 82nd tour victory; Hideki Matsuyama captured the 2021 Masters, and later that year Xander Schauffele, with Japanese heritage, won the gold medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. And then Matusyama seized the 2021 Zozo in its return to his home country after the pandemic.
A player of Morikawa's stature again winning the Zozo only further sollidfies the touranment's worldwide standing.
Collin Morikawa winning the Zozo Championship with his wife, Katherin Zhu.
“This means the world,” Morikawa of his sixth PGA Tour win, not meaning to create a pun, though he has now won tournaments in England, Dubai and Japan, as well as California, Ohio and Florida.
“It feels so good. I can’t even explain it,” added Morikawa, whose 14-under total, after starting the final round two strokes back, bested the runners-up at eight under, Beau Hossler (70) and Eric Cole (70). “I knew I was going to get here at some point. It’s like getting your first win, your first major, whatever … people start asking questions, they start asking the ‘why.’ I really had to look back and ask myself what’s wrong. What is the ‘why’? What’s the reason behind finishing second or fifth versus a win.”
Some would say the troubles continued to be with Morikawa’s putting. A superior ball-striker who ranked second in Strokes Gained/Approach heading into this week, Morikawa has always been a streaky putter, and this year was no different. He entered the Zozo ranked 112th in SG/putting, losing 0.109 strokes to the field per round.
On Wednesday this week, he went straight from his pro-am round to the practice green, where Morikawa said he spent more than two hours “grinding” on his putting. “Just trying to figure out how to read these greens,” he said on Sunday. “How to get a little more consistency, take out a few variables. Texted a couple of buddies on certain little things, and it was nice to see it click like that.”
Click it did, with Morikawa draining a field-best 24 birdies while ranking second in putts per green in regulation. That, combined with tying for third in GIR (73.61 percent), and it was one of those weeks that Morikawa seemed destined to dominate.
After opening with a 64, but then struggling to a 73 in the wind-blown second round, Morikawa did have an early stumble on Saturday. He drove next to a tree on the first hole and had to punch out in eventually suffering a double bogey. After another bogey with a three-putt at No. 4, Morikawa was nine shots off the lead.
But over the final 32 holes, he shot 14 under in a stretch that included him closing with five birdies over his last six holes in a third-round 66. On Sunday, Morikawa seized control with four birdies on a front nine of 30 and cruised in with three more birdies, including one very satisfying roll into the cup on the last.
“It just got to the point today, if I put good speed on it, the ball is going to have a great chance to go into the hole,” Morikawa said.
It doesn’t get much better than finishing the year on such a high note. Morikawa’s wife, Katherine Zhu, stood quietly at greenside with a smile on her face as he finished up. The couple are approaching their one-year wedding anniversary on Nov. 26 and plan to spend a couple of weeks on vacation.
At some point, they may happily hum the Imagine Dragons tune played as their wedding processional. It’s called “On Top of the World.”