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USATSI

How good was Collin Morikawa on Sunday in the second win of his young PGA Tour career? Good enough to stare down the No. 5 player in the world down three with three to go. And then good enough to send him to a playoff with a nasty 66 that concluded with a 23-foot birdie on the first playoff hole and two more pars for the victory. But that's not even close to how good he's been over the course of his very short 25-tournament PGA Tour professional career.

Morikawa was ranked outside the top 1,000 in the world just 13 months ago. Today? He's No. 13, ranked one spot ahead of Tiger Woods and one behind Tommy Fleetwood. And that doesn't even tell the full story. Consider the fact that Morikawa has only played 25 counting events toward the Official World Golf Rankings over the course of his career (turned pro last June). That actually drops his ranking significantly because the minimum divisor for the OWGR is 40 events. His average points earned is artificially deflated. Otherwise? He'd be a top-five golfer in the world.

The stats confirm this notion, too. Morikawa is first in strokes gained on approach shots and eighth from tee to green this season. He's 13th in strokes gained overall despite not putting inside the top 150 on Tour. He has as many first-place finishes (and second-place finishes) this year as he has missed cuts in his career. In 11 events played in 2020, he's finished in the top 26 eight times.

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On Sunday, Morikawa gained nearly six (SIX!) strokes with his iron play. It was the best final-round number by a winner in the history of strokes gained (2004). He hit seven (!!) approach shots to 10 feet or better and averaged 22 feet from the pin. A blind man with a flat-enough putter could break par with that performance.

Anecdotally, he might be more revered than the numbers represent. The swing is pure, everybody knows that, but he's one of the few who's talked about in reverential tones among those who follow this stuff closely. Webb Simpson? Patrick Reed? Those guys are tremendous top-10 golfers in the world. But you don't hear the murmurs bubbling up when their swings are discussed like you do with Morikawa. 

Having a great swing isn't everything of course, but when it results in being first on the Tour in strokes gained on approach shots, it's certainly something! I spoke with CBS Sports analyst Mark Immelman about this back in January when he tried to convince me that Morikawa was a better iron player than Tiger Woods. I guffawed at the time. Now? I ... I think he might be right.

Sunday wasn't transformative for Morikawa, no single round ever is for a player of Morikawa's caliber. But it was eye-opening. The reason it was eye-opening is because plenty of young studs like Morikawa are Trackman heroes and can flush everything they look at on the range or in the first two rounds of a nondescript event. But to combine that with the wherewithal it took to hang with J.T. when J.T. was doing "best player alive" stuff down the stretch was a stunner. We will think differently about Morikawa not because he won, but because of how he won.

From here, the possibilities are myriad. Morikawa will likely continue to rise in the OWGR. It would be surprising to absolutely nobody if he won the major championship-like Memorial this week to pull off the Muirfield Village double. It would be even less surprising if he took the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September. There is no ceiling. 

Collin Morikawa is going to be a problem. For J.T., for everybody, for a very long time. Because when you can successfully marry maybe the purest swing in the world with a mind fit for Sunday afternoons when the oxygen gets sucked from the course, you are primed to become what the guy you downed on Sunday has been and will be again: The No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. That's how good Collin Morikawa can be.