By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
British Open champion, Ryder Cup winner and now the first American to finish a season as the European Tour’s No. 1 player.
It’s been quite the year for Collin Morikawa.
The 24-year-old Californian demonstrated patience after a slow start and then world-class iron play down the stretch in making five birdies in his last seven holes to overhaul a fading Rory McIlroy and win the DP World Tour Championship with a final-round 6-under 66 on Sunday.
With the three-shot victory, Morikawa also captured the Race to Dubai title as the leading points scorer on the European Tour in the 2021 season.
“It’s an honor to be the first American to do that, to put my name against many, many greats and Hall of Famers,” Morikawa said. “It’s special. I get touched up just talking about that.
“To close it out not just with a top 10 but to actually win … what a great way to finish.”
McIlroy, seeking back-to-back titles after victory at the CJ Cup on the PGA Tour last month, started the final round with a one-stroke lead — three clear of Morikawa — and his game seemingly in its best shape for some time.
He was still in the lead, despite a stunning last-day charge from defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick, when a chip onto the green at the 15th hole hit the flagstick and the ball rebounded back into a bunker. That led to the first of three bogeys in his final four holes as McIlroy closed with a 74 and in a tie for sixth place.
His round was the opposite to that of Morikawa, who parred his first six holes to fall further back from McIlroy. At the same time, Fitzpatrick — one of five players who started the week with a chance to overhaul Morikawa in the Race to Dubai standings —had birdied six of his first 10 holes to power up the leaderboard.
Fitzpatrick even took the lead briefly after a birdie at No. 15 — his seventh of the day — meaning there was a chance of him winning the Race to Dubai.
His hopes disappeared on the very next hole when he drove into a fairway bunker and hit out right, straight into the water. The first of two straight bogeys slowed his charge and he shot 66 to tie for second with Alexander Bjork (70).
Morikawa finished on 17 under par for the tournament.
“I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t watching what Matt Fitzpatrick was doing. Boy, did he put on a run,” Morikawa said.
“But it’s 18 holes. All I needed to do was catch a spark … The putts weren’t dropping and I just told myself when I looked at the leaderboard after nine that I was still in there.”
Morikawa pointed to his birdie at No. 12, after thinning his approach and making a putt from 16 feet, as a big turning point.
Then there was a shot from a fairway bunker at No. 16 that might have been his best of the day, a high fade that shaped around the water, landed at the front of the narrow green and curled round to 12 feet from the pin. A par there kept up his momentum and he birdied his last two holes, just as McIlory was making mistakes.
By winning two of his first eight majors, Morikawa is golf’s new big thing. He also won his first WGC event at the Workday Championship in February that, along with lifting the claret jug at Royal St. George’s in July, put him atop the Race to Dubai standings despite playing only two “regular” events on the European Tour in 2021.
At the Ryder Cup, he earned 3 1/2 points from a possible 4 as the United States beat Europe by a record margin.
For Morikawa, 2021 could hardly have gone better.
“Pretty good,” he said with a smile. “Look, the way my head is wired, I’m always looking for what’s next, but I’m going to try to enjoy this one. This one is special.”
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