HARTFORD, Conn. – Officials of the PGA Tour’s annual stop in Connecticut have taken great pride in offering some of golf’s top young players a sponsors’ exemption to play in their tournament.David Duval, John Daly, Stewart Cink, Justin Leonard, Hunter Mahan, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Charles Howell III, Rhode Island native and 2005 champion Brad Faxon and Fairfield native and 2006 titlist J.J. Henry are just a few of the future PGA Tour stars who got their professional careers started at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
But Travelers Championship officials outdid themselves two years ago when they gave invites to the top four ranked amateurs in the country: Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff and Justin Suh. By the time 2019 ended, Morikawa, Hovland and Wolff had already won tournaments, and their combined victory total reached seven on Sunday when Morikawa captured the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.
Morikawa, 24, closed with 3-under-par 69 for a 72-hole total of 18-under 270 and a three-stroke victory over Hovland (67), Brooks Koepka (70) and Billy Horschel (70). It was Morikawa’s fourth PGA Tour title in only 41 career starts, including the 2020 PGA Championship, and enabled him to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win a major championship and WGC event before age 25.
Morikawa grew up idolizing Woods, a fellow Californian, and immediately after finishing off his win on Sunday, he told Steve Sands of Golf Channel, “Tiger means everything to me. I don’t think we say thank you enough, so I want to say thank you to Tiger because sometimes you lose people too early.”
Woods remains hospitalized after sustaining severe leg injuries in a rollover car accident last Tuesday in Los Angeles County, Calif. It was an emotional win for Morikawa, who mentioned Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who died in January 2020, and his paternal grandfather, Toshio, who passed away a month ago.
“You don’t get to say thank you enough,” Morikawa said.
Hovland moved to second in the FedExCup points standings, 38 behind leader Cantlay, whose then-course record, 10-under 60 in the second round of the 2011 Travelers Championship is the low score by an amateur in PGA Tour history. Morikawa, Hovland and Cantlay are likely to play in Connecticut’s biggest sporting event at TPC River Highlands on June 24-27. The first two players to commit to the $7.4 million event are defending champion Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 ranked player in the world who won the Masters in November on the way to 2020 PGA Tour Player of the Year, and No. 11 DeChambeau, the reigning U.S. Open champion and No. 1 in driving distance. Morikawa is ranked No. 4, Cantlay is No. 7 and Hovland is No. 13.
Players and fans honored Woods by wearing red shirts and black pants, Tiger’s signature final-round outfit, as they did at the PGA Tour Champions’ Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Ariz., won by Kevin Sutherland. Morikawa did not wear a red shirt, although his clothing manufacturer shipped him one. He said inclement weather might have delayed the arrival, but he did wear black pants.
Horschel had “TW” etched on his cap, while DeChambeau, Matt Kucher and Jason Day played with golf balls stamped with “Tiger.” Day, Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Scottie Scheffler, Carlos Ortiz, Sebastian Munoz and Cameron Champ were among those who wore black slacks and dark red shirts. Other shirts were of lighter red tones, including those worn by Justin Thomas and Cameron Smith.
“I don’t wear it as good as (Tiger) does, but it’ll be all right,” McIlroy said. “It’s just a gesture to let him know that we’re thinking about him and we’re rooting for him. Obviously, things are looking a little better than they were on Tuesday, but he’s still got a ways to go. He’s got a huge recovery ahead of him.”
“He was my idol,” Munoz said. “He’s the reason I played golf today. It’s just a little tribute I wanted to pay to him, just how much his life and his work have impacted my life.”
“Just paying respect to Tiger,” Day said. “Obviously we hope for the best in wishing him a very quick recovery, just wanted him to know that we’re thinking about him.”
“I think it’s just important for him to feel some kind of support,” said Thomas, a close friend and frequent partner in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches. “I think this shows support to him. It’s not something that’s going to happen every week, it’s not something that people are doing every day, but obviously Sunday’s a pretty special day for him and what he’s wearing and just seemed like a great chance that people had the opportunity to do it.”
“We’ve enjoyed so many Sundays watching Tiger do his thing,” Finau said. “Red and black, we know that’s what Tiger does on Sundays, so to just join in and just let Tiger know we’re supporting him in the best way we can. We’re still playing and we miss him out here, but it was cool just to be a part of that today.”
Annika Sorenstam, a close friend of Woods who returned to the LPGA Tour for a week after an absence of more than 12 years, her husband/caddie Mike and children Ava and Will wore red shirts and black shorts during the final round of the Gainbridge LPGA at their home course, Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla.
In a Tweet from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Woods said, “It is hard to explain how touching today was when I turned on the tv and saw all the red shirts. To every golfer and every fan, you are truly helping me get through this tough time.”
It was truly a memorable Sunday final round in the golf world despite Tiger Woods recovering in a hospital in southern California!