Mighty Morikawa, resurgent Spieth and McIlroy's malaise: The Open's major talking points

The 149th Open concluded on Sunday with a history-making champion and a number of other intriguing storylines playing out at Royal St George's

Magnificent Morikawa reinforces a truly elite talent

Already the game’s premier iron player, Collin Morikawa dazzled with his putter to record a win for the ages. Sat 124th overall on the PGA Tour with the short stick in hand, the American ranked No 1 around Royal St George’s. Keep to that sort of level and he will be incredibly hard to beat – as if this week didn't prove that enough.

Aged 24, and in only his third full season as a professional, Morikawa has undeniably the game and the gumption to challenge consistently for top honours. Heck, he’s a two-time major champion, adding the Claret Jug to the Wanamaker Trophy he captured in May last year. That was won, too, on debut, making Morikawa the first golfer in history to land two majors at the first attempt.

Other stats bear out a star very much on the rise: fewest major starts (8) needed to win twice since Bobby Jones in 1926; in the past 100 years, only two players won their second major in fewer attempts: Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen; Tiger Woods is the only other golfer to secure the PGA Championship and the Open before turning 25.

On Sunday, after going out in the final group, Morikawa produced near-flawless golf for a bogey-free 66 to win by two. His composure could be almost as impressive as his iron play.

Oosthuizen goes agonisingly close again

Check out Louis Oosthuizen’s past two months of golf at the apex of the professional game. The South African, an Open champion already, has contended in the past three majors, becoming one of a select band to have finished in the top three in three majors in a single year.

Oosthuizen began Sunday with a one-shot lead, but failed to get anything going as playing partner Morikawa left him in his wake. A final-round 71 wrecked his bid to win wire-to-wire and led to a third-placed finish. In the end, he was four shots back. What’s more, it extended Oosthuizen’s quest for a second major championship to what will be 12 years by the time the Masters rolls around in April.

However, it’s not like he hasn’t put himself in position: since landing the Open at St Andrews in 2010, Oosthuizen has six runner-up finishes in majors. Two of those came recently, when he came home two shots behind Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship in May, and then when Jon Rahm pipped him by a stroke at last month's US Open.

Aged 38, Oosthuizen must be wondering how many more of those opportunities will present themselves. Fortunately, and like Sunday’s victor, he has the temperament to go again.

Resurgent Spieth is back… almost

No doubt, Jordan Spieth will be ruing his Saturday finish. The American was putting together a tasty title challenge only to bogey the final two holes of his third round and fall three shots behind overnight leader Oosthuizen. Then Spieth did what Spieth used to do: he rebounded from an early setback with a scintillating run that provided further evidence of his mighty talent.

After bogeying the 4th and the 6th on Sunday, the 2017 Open champion eagled the next, playing an eight-hole stretch in 6-under par. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough – Morikawa saw to that – with Spieth finishing two shots back, in second place.

However, it suggested his 2021 resurgence remains on track. Having reeled off three majors before he’d turned 24 and ascending to world No 1, Spieth fell to 98th in the global rankings as his form deserted him. Until this year. He won the Texas Open in April - his first tournament victory since his Open triumph – and has six top-four finishes and two more top 10s in his past 14 outings.

In April, Spieth finished tied-3rd at the Masters. Sometimes, given his early career blaze, it’s easy to forget Spieth has plenty of time on his side to make more history. Now world No 14, he doesn’t turn 28 until the end of this month.

Patience required with mid-transition McIlroy

On the surface, it represented another disappointing major display for Rory McIlroy. The former world No 1, who secured the Claret Jug in 2014, did not figure much throughout the tournament at Royal St George’s, finishing the week in a tie for 46th.

Signing off for an even-par 280 total, he was 15 shots adrift of Morikawa. And so the wait for a fifth major sustains. That it would endure seven years from his last in 2014 – he won the PGA Championship the month after his Open success – seemed entirely inconceivable back then.

There is a massive caveat, though, to his current malaise. McIlroy is at present trying to figure out his game under the watchful eye of Pete Cowan, the highly respected coach whom he began working with in March as he sough to fix his swing.

In Sandwich, McIlroy mixed some spectacular play with some woeful errors. His deadeye driving - his great weapon - deserted him at the weekend. Afterwards, in typically candid fashion, the four-time major winner acknowledged the need to eradicate the costly mistakes.

Plainly, McIlroy’s past three results underline a work in progress: he was tied-59th at the Irish Open, missed the cut in Scotland and never challenged this past week. Sitting at world No 15, McIlroy heads to a first Olympics with much to work on.

US Ryder Cup team shaping up nicely

The final leaderboard at Royal St George’s would not have made brilliant reading for European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington. Of the top 11, six hailed from across the Atlantic, while Jon Rahm and Robert MacIntyre were the only Europeans in that group.

Rahm’s tied-3rd was cause for optimism, as the result moved the Spaniard back to world No 1. Coming a month after his first major crown - he won the US Open by a shot - and a week after his tied-7th in Scotland, Rahm seems set to lead Europe's charge at Whistling Straights in September.

Harrington should be heartened too by Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry and Paul Casey finishing inside the top 15, while Sergio Garcia finally showed form with a tie for 19th.

Still, the United States look incredibly impressive. Morikawa won, Spieth was runner-up, Brooks Koepka finished tied-6th and Dustin Johnson was tied-8th and thus trending back towards the sort of unparalleled form that catapulted him to top spot in the global standings.

As has been known for some time, captain Steve Stricker has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose, even without mentioning Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau (world No 4, 5 and 6, respectively). Europe could do with usual protagonist McIlroy finding his game, among others.

Updated: July 20th 2021, 7:18 AM
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