Collin Morikawa did not wear the Tiger red during the final round of the WGC Workday Championship, but everything about his incredible iron play seemed like a tribute to the stricken icon.
Of course, there are idiots on social media who questioned why the 24-year-old American did not don the Woods Sunday uniform, in the manner of Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy. But the fact was that, just like the majority of the field, his sponsors could not get him the desired colours in time, after Nike decided to fit their staff out in the wardrobe of their biggest star.
It would have been unprofessional for Morikawa to do otherwise and Woods, especially would have admired his countryman’s professional approach, as he saw a big lead slip and knuckled down to make it a procession anyway. Morikawa’s three-shot victory over Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland and Billy Horschel was his first win since the USPGA Championship in San Francisco last October.
A driven young man, he believed it was an overdue follow-up, which is the exact reason why so many believe that this former world No 1 amateur is destined to assume that mantle -professionally. Morikawa has recorded three top-10s since his glory at Harding Park, but he told Telegraph Sport in January “I let the fire go out after the [US] PGA”. It is fair to say it is reignited.
With fellow majors champions such as Koepka and Rory McIlroy close in pursuit, it would have been easy to feel the pressure and after Morikawa only played the first six holes in level par he saw his cushion reduced to nought by Horschel. On Saturday afternoon, after 12 holes, he was six clear. A dozen holes on and he could claim only parity.
Morikawa was in folding country, but he carried on banging his wedges close to the pin – 10 feet from 135 yards on the ninth and to six feet on the 12th – and thereon in, from reasserting his superiority, he allowed no-one a glimpse of the $1.82m (£1.3m) first prize.
Hovland is basically booked in for a Ryder Cup debut after this lucrative runner-up finish. Padraig Harrington will be mighty glad of the 23-year-old’s presence in Whistling Straits. He was on the same college circuit as Morikawa, turned pro around the same time, and although he has not quite matched Morikawa he has made a stunning introduction to the paid game and he is already a member of the world’s top 15.
McIlroy looked poised at the start of the day, four behind, and was within two after birdieing the third. But bogeys on the fourth and sixth did for his challenge to win a first title in 15 months. The Northern Irishman missed the cut the previous Sunday and a tie for sixth is a huge improvement with the Masters just six weeks away.
McIlroy proudly wore red in tribute to Woods, who crashed his car in LA on Tuesday and suffered career-threatening injuries to his lower right leg. The 45-year-old is still in hospital beginning the long recovery.
Annika Sorenstam, the greatest female player of her generation, also donned the Tiger uniform for the last round of the Gainbridge LPGA tournament at Lake Nona. Sorenstam’s sartorial statement might well have meant the most to Woods, seeing as, back in the glory days, the 15-time major-winner would text Sorenstam whenever he won one of the Big Four to keep score. Sorenstam won 10 majors and for a while kept up.
Even Woods would have admired Sorenstam’s feat in Orlando the last four days, where, after a 13-year absence following retirement in 2008, she returned to the LPGA Tour and remarkably made the cut.
Granted, the 50-year-old’s weekend did not got to plan as she finished 74th of the 74 who advanced to the last two rounds, but this was still an achievement for the record books. Sorenstam finished on 13-over, 29 shots behind winner, Nelly Korda, the American world No 4 who won by three shots.
“I’m just glad that he seems to going to be OK,” Sorenstam said, referring to the statement on Friday that described Woods as “good spirits”. “I’m wishing him and his family the very best. Our thoughts are with him.”
WGC Workday Championship top 10
USA unless stated
1: Collin Morikawa -18
T2: Brooks Koepka -15
T2: Viktor Hovland (NOR) -15
T2: Billy Horschel- 15
5: Scottie Scheffler -14
T6: Rory McIlroy (NI) -12
T6: Webb Simpson -12
T6: Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) -12
T9: Jason Kokrak -11
T9: Patrick Reed -11
Third-round report: McIlroy fires stunning 66
So tough is The Concession course that the members call it “The Concussion”. Yet with a brilliant 66 in the third round of the WGC Workday Championship, Rory McIlroy eased so many of the headaches suffered by his admirers with the Masters taking place in six weeks’ time.
McIlroy missed his first cut in almost two years last week leading to obvious concerns that he was well off the pace in the build-up to Augusta, where he will have yet another shot at becoming just the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam.
However, having laboured over his swing in California, he has fixed some of the problems. But not all. It says so much about the vastness of the Northern Irishman’s talent that he can shoot six-under around such a demanding examination and announce: ”This is nowhere near what I feel like I can play. I feel like I’m sort of piecing it together. Yeah, I’m just getting it around.”
Nevertheless, on 11-under, McIlroy goes into the final round of the $9.3m (£6.7m) event in a tie fifth, just four off leader Collin Morikawa. No doubt the USPGA champion will be tough to overhaul, but the Florida layout is the sort of capricious challenge on which shots can come and disappear in an instant.
Ironically enough, the 7,564-yarder is named in honour of that great act of sportsmanship when Jack Nicklaus conceded Tony Jacklin a very missable putt in the last match of the 1969 Ryder Cup. There have been many contenders there this week, muttering about the unfairness of the place.
Mcilroy was obviously not one of these following his fine afternoon’s work on Saturday. It was made all the more impressive by the manner in which he fought back from a six on the par-four second, when he was over-ambitious from the fairway bunker and found the water.
In the past, Mcilroy has been accused of not being able to shrug off setbacks, but not this time.
After steadying himself with four consecutive pars, McIlroy, 31, played the final 10 holes in seven-under – quite the achievement on a test this severe. The highlight was the 533-yard par five, which witnessed a typical McIlroy par-five eagle.
He boomed his drive 332-yards over the water into the centre of the fairway and from there hit a mid-iron 196 yards to within 12 feet. The old Rory swagger was back, but maybe that was simply because he knew there is still improvement to follow.
“I’m really happy with how I played coming in,” McIlroy said. “The first couple of days around here I made plenty of birdies, I just was making too many mistakes. And it seemed like that was going to be the story of the day again after the first few holes, but once I got into the round and got some momentum going I was in the rhythm.
“I can’t really think about winning, I just have to go out and shoot another good score and see where it leaves me.”
Second-round report: Koepka surges into lead
Brooks Koepka shot a second-round 66 to move to 11-under and into a one-shot lead at the WGC Workday Championship. The former world No 1 emphasised his resurgence – that saw him win in Phoenix three weeks ago – with a round featuring seven birdies to hold the advantage over two countrymen in Billy Horschel and Colin Morikawa as well as the Australian Cameron Smith.
England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick is only one further back after a 69, while Rory McIlroy recovered from a double-bogey to record a 70 for a five-under total.
Meanwhile, the European Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour have joined forces for a mixed tournament in Northern Ireland this summer. The ISPS Handa World Invitational – a 288-strong event comprising 144 men and 144 women – has been elevated to European Tour status following its debut in 2019 on the Challenge Tour.
The event will be played over two courses, Galgorm Castle and Massereene, from July 28-Aug 1 and form part of the European Tour’s 2021 UK Swing, taking in tournaments across the four home nations.
The women’s field will be split equally between the LPGA Tour and the LET, while the $2.35m (£1.65m) purse will be divided evenly as the men and women compete for two equal prize funds. The tournament will count towards the Ryder Cup points and the Solheim Cup points.