As he played his final five holes, Collin Morikawa gave the impression he has been competing on Sundays at Majors for decades, as opposed to this being just his eighth start in one.
The first evidence came with his birdie putt at the 14th, a fantastic 18-foot effort up a slope which followed a rather pedestrian pitch shot that failed to roll up onto the second tier.
That was followed only a hole later with a remarkable par save from a thick lie in the rough, short-sided on the left of the green. And, needing to defend a two-shot lead on 18, he found the fairway and hit the green in two for the most straightforward of pars.
Even more impressively, he played his final 31 holes on a tough links layout without making a bogey.
His performance defied logic. It was one of an Open Championship veteran, someone like Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 champion aiming to win exactly 11 years to the day after he won his last. Or Jordan Spieth, the 2017 champion looking to exorcise two years of agony in the game by returning to the Major winners’ circle.
Both had their own chances. Oosthuizen held the overnight lead and was still tied for it after six, but a bogey at seven was a dagger blow and he would falter to a one-over 71.
Spieth got to one behind twice during his round, spurred on by a momentum-building eagle at the seventh, but could only par his way in after reaching 13-under at 14.
Jon Rahm had a fleeting chance after his own eagle at the seventh but never quite got into serious contention, running out of holes after reaching 11-under. Aside from them, nobody else made it into double figures, despite Brooks Koepka ominously getting to eight-under thru 12, but he would go no lower.
In the end, none of them would triumph. For Collin Morikawa, Open Championship debutant, is now Collin Morikawa, Champion Golfer of the Year.
“We only get four Majors a year, and every one of them is special. To finally get to play an Open Championship for the first time and win it, it’s going to be that much more special,” grinned the 24-year-old, who finished 15-under and two clear of Spieth.
“I won the PGA, and then coming back as the defending champ you just have a sense of like you belong, this is going to be part of you for the rest of your life. The Open Championship is going to be part of my life, the rest of my life, no matter what happens.
“To be a part of that history, it’s awesome. To hear Champion Golfer of the Year, chills.”
What Morikawa has achieved is simply astonishing. He is the first player ever to win two Major championships in his first appearances in them — not even Tiger Woods did that. He is only the third player to win two Majors in eight starts and is the eighth to win multiple Majors before the age of 25 (a certain Mr McIlroy also holds this distinction).
Until this victory, Morikawa hadn’t won a top-tier event in front of crowds, his PGA and WGC successes coming behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. His ability to close it out in front of 32,000 at Royal St George’s makes an already incredible feat even more so.
And yet his composure belies his years. At no point during the week did he look overwhelmed, not when he tied the low round of the week on Friday with a 64, not when playing in the final pairing at a Major for the first time on Saturday.
Not when walking down the 18th with everything to lose on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m glad I look calm because the nerves are definitely up there,” he laughed. “But you channel these nerves into excitement and energy, and that puts you away from like a fear factor into this is something I want.
“I had nothing to prove to myself today. I’ve been able to do it. I’ve closed out tournaments before, but being in the final group in a Major and tapping in like that, I have not had that yet in a Major. At a WGC, yes, but to have this many people here, these are the moments you remember on TV. People tapping in to win a tournament, to win a Major.
“Those are the moments, the few seconds that you embrace so much. You look around, every seat is packed, everywhere is packed with people. That’s just what’s going through my head of just enjoying those moments.”
It’s hard not to feel for Oosthuizen in particular. After his agony at missing out on the US Open just four weeks ago and his general record in Majors over the last 10 years, there was almost a feeling that he was owed one.
Alas, golf is not that fair.
His bunker trouble at the seventh sowed the seeds of his defeat, and his bogey at 13 sealed the deal. By that stage he was four behind Morikawa, and the fact the American was both his playing partner and rock solid on the way in would have sapped any energy Oosthuizen might have had to make a comeback.
This is his tenth top-10 finish at a Major since he won at St Andrews in 2010. Eight of them have been in the top-three. He cannot do much more and yet every time there always seems to be one person better than him on that particular week.
On this occasion it just so happened to be Morikawa, the 24-year-old from California.
“To be cemented on the Claret Jug with countless Hall of Famers, people that I’ve looked up to, not just from golf but outside of golf, it’s so special,” he smiled.
“I think when you make history, and I’m 24-years-old, it’s hard to grasp and it’s hard to really take it in. I enjoy these moments and I love it, and I want to teach myself to embrace it more, maybe spend a few days and sit back and drink out of (the Claret Jug).
“Now I just want more. When you’re in these moments and you truly love what you do, which I love playing golf and competing against these guys, these are the best moments ever.”