Collin Morikawa made history with a stunning debut victory at Royal St George’s as The 149th Open took place a year later than originally scheduled.
The COVID-19 pandemic had forced the cancellation of the Championship in 2020, but crowds of up to 32,000 per day were able to descend upon Sandwich as Shane Lowry belatedly defended the Claret Jug he had claimed in such memorable fashion at Royal Portrush two years earlier.
Those in attendance were treated to glorious weather for all four days of the Championship and a truly dazzling performance from Morikawa, who became the first man to win on his first appearance at two different majors having previously triumphed at the 2020 PGA Championship.
A nerveless, bogey-free 66 on the final day ensured Morikawa, whose iron play was typically brilliant throughout the week, prevailed with a 15-under aggregate of 265 – a record at Royal St George’s.
Jordan Spieth, the Champion Golfer of 2017, applied the most significant pressure on a gripping final day and finished two strokes behind after matching Morikawa’s closing 66, while Louis Oosthuizen (71) and Jon Rahm (66) shared third on 11 under.
Oosthuizen led after each of the first three rounds and was one clear of Morikawa heading into the last 18, but the South African – second in each of the previous two majors in 2021 - was unable to secure another Claret Jug 11 years on from his runaway triumph at St Andrews.
A combination of calm conditions and a relatively lush, green links ensured there were plenty of birdie opportunities from the outset as Oosthuizen began his week with a six-under 64 in round one to lead Spieth and Brian Harman by a shot.
The Champion of 2010 then doubled his advantage on Friday with a 65 – setting a new record aggregate of 129 for the first 36 holes of an Open – but the star of the second day was Morikawa, whose sublime 64 lifted him into second place, one ahead of Spieth.
Day two also produced the undoubted shot of the Championship as Jonathan ‘Jigger’ Thomson – a survivor of leukaemia and the tallest player in European Tour history – brought the house down at the par-3 16th with a hole-in-one.
Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth were all tied at the top of the leaderboard as round three moved towards a conclusion, but it was the former who once again ended the day in front at 12 under, with Morikawa one back and Spieth three adrift after a costly bogey-bogey finish.
After two more bogeys early in his final round however, Spieth threatened to pull off a sensational comeback as he picked up six shots in eight holes to charge firmly back into contention as Oosthuizen’s challenge faded.
Yet Morikawa, who had three birdies of his own at the seventh, eighth and ninth, remained rock-solid and a crucial gain on the 14th gave the 23-year-old a two-shot cushion that he would not relinquish.
Lowry put up an admirable defence of his crown as he tied for 12th, while the Silver Medal went to Matthias Schmid, who turned professional the next day after finishing four clear of Yuxin Lin, the only other amateur to make the cut.