INZAI CITY, Japan (AP) — American Collin Morikawa called winning the Zozo Championship in Japan “incredible,” a special way to close the season for a player whose great-grandparents emigrated from the country.
But more important was a victory — anywhere, any victory — after a 27-month winless streak on the PGA Tour that started prompting questions about his game.
He broke through Sunday with a 7-under par 63 for a six-shot victory at the Narashino Country Club just outside Tokyo.
“It feels so good, I can’t even explain it,” Morikawa said of his sixth PGA Tour win. “I knew I was going to get here at some point. It’s like getting your first win, your first major.”
He said he realized that people were asking questions about why he had not won for so long. He said the victory was extra special since his wife Katherine Zhu was in the gallery and gave him a kiss when he came off No. 18.
“She hasn’t been to a win since — it’s been a long time since she’s actually been at the tournament since we won. So it’s nice to have her here,” he said.
Morikawa added that he hadn’t done much to change his game, but acknowledged “the thoughts in your head start piling up.” He said part of the challenge was not to overreact to losing.
“I had to really look back and ask myself what’s wrong,” he said. “What’s the reasoning behind finishing second — that versus a win. This win means the world. Being in Japan and being half Japanese. A lot has come through over the past week.”
Americans Beau Hossler and Eric Cole were in second, six back with closing-round 70s.
Morikawa is cleary at home in Japan. He said he arrived last week with his wife and they began eating their way through the Japanese capital — everything from high-end to street food.
“We spent four days, four full days just eating,” he said. “Like, you know, visiting around, looking around Tokyo, but truly eating. We would eat at seven to eight spots. That’s a lot.”
Though his connections are distant, local fans almost claim him as their own. He doesn’t speak the language, his mother’s roots are in Hong Kong, but he does carry a Japanese family name and an interest in learning more.
“I knew at the beginning of the week that the fans out here are obviously rooting for the Japanese players,” he said. “But I like to count myself as a part Japanese player — so I felt the love.”
Morikawa started two shots behind 54-hole leader Justin Suh, who faded badly looking for his first PGA Tour win. He finished with a 74.
Morikawa had four birdies on the front nine, consistently hit fairways, which he didn’t in the second and third round, and kept pulling away with three more on the back nine, including one from 10 feet on the 18th.
“The putter got hot, which is really nice,” he said. “I haven’t had that in quite some time.”
Morikawa has been one of golf’s most-watched players — one of the game’s best iron players — so even though he’s had several chances to win recently, not getting it done has drawn some attention.
His last PGA Tour title was the 2021 British Open — he also won the 2020 PGA Championship — and followed it a few months later by becoming the first American to finish as the European Tour’s No. 1 player, taking the DP World Tour Championship.
The only disappointment in 2021 was losing out in a playoff for a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Fellow American Suh had a one-stroke lead after 54 holes but couldn’t hold on.
Morikawa knows that feeling.
In January, he had a six-stroke lead after 54 holes of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but wound up finishing second after a string of bogeys to finish.
Through what he called his “two-year drought” he said his caddie J.J. Jakovac stuck with him, reviewing video, overseeing long putting sessions, trying to figure out tweaks.
“He’s a friend, he’s a mentor, he’s someone I rely on, he’s someone I respect,” Morikawa said. “He’s everything. I wouldn’t have — I wouldn’t be here right now without him.”
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf