Martin Dempster: Wait worth it as US PGA delivered a magical major
Final day to remember as new wave made mark on one of biggest stages in game
It was worth the wait. Oh, yeah. The return of men’s major golf after nearly 13 months in the 102nd US PGA Championship delivered one of those days to cherish in sport, illustrated, no doubt, by the fact it kept so many people up way past their bedtime as they stuck with a truly thrilling title tussle at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
On two occasions, there was a six-way tie for the lead then it became seven players locked together at the top of the board. It really was gripping stuff in the battle for the Wanamaker Trophy and what a shot that eventually decided its destiny.
Kerry Haigh, an Englishman, is the PGA of America’s chief championship officer and there are few better in the business when it comes to setting up courses, as we saw from his decision to make an eagle a real possibility at the par-4 16th on the last day by playing it at 294 yards – 44 yards shorter than for the third round.
Put on the spot by one of my followers on Twitter who I thought would go on to win as the leaders came down the stretch, I honestly didn’t know but replied saying “the player who can eagle 16”, and so it proved as Collin Morikawa produced the shot of his life with a drive to seven feet.
We already knew, of course, that Morikawa was bloody good after landing two wins on the PGA Tour in his first full season in the pro ranks, but what an overall performance by the 23-year-old on the last day as he became a major champion at only the second attempt. Wow.
That’s how good youngsters coming out of the US college system are these days and it could easily have been Matthew Wolff or Cameron Champ in Morikawa’s shoes on Sunday at the end as they were also right in the mix at only 21 and 25 respectively.
Would that have been the case if the place had been packed with fans rather than being played behind closed doors? You have to think the lack of atmosphere and noise helped all three of them, but, at the same time, we are talking about an exceptional new wave of talent here that also includes Norwegian Viktor Hovland and, dare I say it, our very own Bob MacIntyre.
If Sunday is anything to go by, Tiger Woods can forget about getting the three wins he needs to move level with Jack Nicklaus on 18 majors. Not only because Old Father Time has caught up with Woods, but also due to the fact that, on this evidence, the heat has been turned up a notch or two.
As he proved last April, Woods, pictured left, can still have an edge over most in The Masters, but the arrival on the scene of bloodthirsty players half his age has just made things more difficult for him in terms of winning more majors elsewhere, starting at Winged Foot next month in the rescheduled US Open. While he came up just short in the end, it was great to see Paul Casey playing with a smile on his face from start to finish in the final round in California and credit where credit is due to Bryson DeChambeau, who could easily have imploded after a mid-round wobble but held things together to produce his best effort so far in a major.
It wasn’t to be for Brooks Koepka in his bid to join an exclusive club by winning the same major three years in a row, but don’t expect him to be scarred by a disappointing last day because he’s a tough cookie.
Indeed, the real head scratcher as the dust settles is what Rory McIlroy is missing as his engine continues to splutter since golf’s restart, having been riding on the crest of a wave before lockdown.
As we’ve seen in the past, of course, McIlroy can hit purple patches and look almost unbeatable when he is in full stride. Right now, though, he is just not firing on all cylinders, and that is irking him. “I can’t really put my finger on it,” he admitted in summing up this effort.
As for MacIntyre, it was a satisfactory week’s work in his first appearance in a major on US soil and only a second major start. The young Scot will be particularly pleased how he responded on the back nine in his second round when he was perilously close to the projected cut line.
He made the trip across the Atlantic rather than staying at home for the first three events on the European Tour’s new UK Swing to broaden his experience at the top level and, once again, he took a new challenge in his stride.
I’m showing my age by saying it doesn’t seem that long ago when Andrew Coltart was the man in MacIntyre’s shoes as he turned professional on the back of a glittering career and, boy, was it enjoyable watching him go on and record two European Tour wins and also play in a Ryder Cup.
It has been a few years now, of course, since he swapped his putter for a microphone and what a terrific commentator he has become, having been the star of the show for me in the Sky Sports Golf team covering last week’s event.
As ever, Ewen Murray was both eloquent and knowledgeable and, with Coltart alongside him, the Scots certainly played their part in telling a fantastic last-day story in the tone it deserved.
Roll on that next men’s major, which, thankfully, is set to come round a lot quicker than this one.
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