Regardless of whether or not Tiger Woods makes his long-awaited return on Thursday, The Masters Tournament is filled to the brim with superstar golfers and countless champions. That said, few players are currently at the same level as Collin Morikawa.
Morikawa has had a blazing-hot start to his three-year career. Since making his PGA debut in 2019, the 25-year-old already has two major victories, the second of which came last July in the memorable Open Championship. Now, the California native will aim to win his first Masters and join one of golf’s most prestigious clubs.
As Morikawa gets ready to tee off at Augusta for the third time, there are several reasons to believe he’ll take home his first green jacket.
Collin Morikawa is elite with his irons
To the casual golf fan, big drives and clutch putts are how to win on Tour. Sure, deep drives down the fairway and a strong putting performance will obviously work for any golfer. But at Augusta, you’ll need to be on top of your game when it comes to iron play.
Fortunately, that’s Morikawa’s specialty.
Last season, Morikawa was fifth in GIR (Greens in Regulation). This season, he’s still seventh. Only Jon Rahm, last year’s U.S. Open champ and the betting favorite to win this year’s Masters Tournament, has been above him both years.
However, Collin holds the edge in other iron-related stats. The former Cal Berkeley star finished T7 in average proximity to the hole on fairway approach shots during the 2020-21 season. Rahm was T74 in the same stat. Not to mention, he led all players in SG: Approach last year, blowing out the rest of the competition.
Morikawa’s elite iron play gives him a huge advantage at Augusta. According to stats compiled by PGATour.com, five of the last seven Masters champions have ended the tournament inside the top five in SG: Approach. Three of them — Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, and Tiger — were number one. Furthermore, nine of the last 10 champs were inside the top seven in GIR over their four-day tournaments.
At Augusta, inaccurate driving won’t make a huge difference, while the fast greens will make it hard to predict who will dominate with the putter. But a strong approach game consistently translates to success. That bodes very well for Morikawa.
Morikawa is learning from his first two Masters appearances
Morikawa’s Masters debut came under extraordinary circumstances, to say the least. The 23-year-old PGA Championship victor teed off at a spectator-less Augusta National in November 2020, finishing T44 with a cumulative score of E.
But just a few months later, Morikawa showed some encouraging signs. The youngster shot 69 on Friday and 70 on Sunday, helping him finish T18 after four rounds. While his overall score improved by a mere stroke, he managed to finish T4 in GIR.
Now, as he gears up for his third crack at Amen Corner and Rae’s Creek, the well-seasoned Morikawa is making a subtle change that should help him improve even further.
“I need to play my game,” Morikawa said during his Monday press conference at Augusta (h/t: Golf Digest). “You hear how much you need to hit draws, and you have to hit it high and you have to do certain things. But that’s what I did wrong the past two years. Pretty much my week prep two years ago and last year were, ‘How do I hit a draw? How do I hit a high draw? How do I do this?’”
“This year was a little different,” he added. “This year, I just made sure everything was finely tuned and I go out there and figure out how to play the course to my strengths. And that’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned, I think, overall.”
Rather than trying to change his successful approach in order to fit Augusta, Morikawa is going into this week confident in the game that’s led to his No. 3 ranking in the OWGR. That’s the best decision he could’ve possibly made.
Competing in The Masters isn’t going to phase Collin Morikawa
There are courses that are more difficult than Augusta National. Heck, the U.S. Open is widely considered to be a more challenging major no matter where it’s played. But between the history, traditions, and pressure, The Masters Tournament is easily the biggest event on the golf calendar.
It’s expected for young players to be overwhelmed by Augusta at first, or any major course for that matter. But that hasn’t been the case with Collin.
The 25-year-old has two victories in eight career majors. While two is more than many other elite golfers on Tour like Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau, it’s also wild to think about how the young Morikawa has won 25% of the majors he’s participated in. He also has two top-eight finishes on his resume, both of which were last year.
There’s a certain, unquantifiable trait that allows certain golfers to stand out when the moments matter most. It’s what separates Brooks Koepka from Rickie Fowler, or Tiger Woods from Matt Kuchar. Being able to stick your approaches, drain your makeable putts, and keep your overall composure is far easier said than done, especially at The Masters.
Clearly, Morikawa has that “it” factor. He took down the field at the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park, his second career major appearance. A year later, he flashed his dominance on the links when he secured the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. And as he now goes for major number three, there’s no moment too big for one of the PGA’s best players.
So as the azaleas glisten and the patrons roar, Morikawa will be the final man standing come Sunday at Augusta.
All statistics courtesy of PGA Tour.