From Phil to firsts, the 2021 men’s golf majors didn’t disappoint

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SANDWICH, England — Like it did with everything else, COVID-19 turned golf upside down.

In 2020, there was no Open. The Masters was in August. The PGA Championship was back in August, where it normally fell before being moved to May the year before. The U.S. Open was in September.

Instead of nine months between The Open and the Masters, it was five months — and back-to-back Masters — between majors and a run of seven in 11 months.

It’s been a wild ride, with three of the majors played without spectators in 2020, a limited turnout in April for the Masters, a seemingly COVID-free, raucous environment at Kiawah for the PGA, and a controlled situation at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open.

The Open at Royal St. George’s brought the biggest crowds since the pandemic began in March of 2020. The 30,000-plus spectators a day were treated to terrific weather that, unfortunately, took the teeth out of the venerable links.

So we are now back to waiting nine months for the Masters and the next major championship. We do have the Olympics and a Ryder Cup coming. And, of course, the memories of 2021. Here is a look back at the four major championships.

The Masters

Winner: Hideki Matsuyama

What happened: Matsuyama took a 4-shot lead into the final round on the back of a strong finish to the weather-interrupted third round, then hung on for a 1-shot victory over Will Zalatoris with a final-round 73. He became the first Japanese male golfer to win a major championship.

Best moment: Matsuyama’s caddie, Shota Hayafuji, took the flag — as is customary for the winning caddie — then returned the flagstick to the cup on the 18th hole. He then turned to the course, removed his hat and bowed. “I was thankful,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about doing it and it just happened.”

Honorable mention: Matsuyama in victory being asked about the impact his longtime manager and interpreter, Bob Turner, has had on his career, getting emotional — and then Turner struggling to convey those words in English because he was expressing Hideki’s words about himself.

Worst moment: Xander Schauffele’s 8-iron approach to the 16th green on Sunday that came up short. He had made a valiant rally to pull within a stroke, and could have put pressure on Matsuyama by hitting the ball anywhere on the green. Instead, the water ball pretty much ended any drama.

The PGA Championship

Winner: Phil Mickelson

What happened: Mickelson, at age 50, became the oldest major champion in the game’s history with a final-round 73 that was good for a 2-shot victory over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen. It was Mickelson’s sixth major title and 45th PGA Tour win.

Best moment: The scene on the 18th hole, with thousands of fans swarming around Mickelson after he played his second shot to the green, a celebration unseen in golf for some time.

Honorable mention: During the third round, Phil asking a technician to have a drone removed from his line of sight as he believed it might interfere with his ball flight.

Worst moment: The scene on the 18th hole, with thousands of fans swarming around Mickelson … and Koepka, who said a spectator clipped his already-injured knee. The situation turned out to be fine, but for a few harrowing moments it was also scary and could have really been bad.

U.S. Open

Winner: Jon Rahm

What happened: Rahm became the first player since Tom Watson in 1982 to win the U.S. Open with birdies on the final two holes, shooting a final-round 67 to edge Louis Oosthuizen by a shot.

Best moment: Rahm’s 18-footer for birdie came when he thought he might need it for a playoff. It capped a wild final round with numerous players in contention and gave Rahm — who two weeks earlier tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw from the Memorial with a 6-shot, 54-hole lead — his first major championship.

Honorable mention: The final day at one point saw 10 players within a shot of the lead. Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, as well as two-time U.S. Open winner Koepka, were part of the crowded leaderboard.

Worst moment: DeChambeau’s back-nine implosion which saw him shoot 44. He led the tournament standing on the 10th tee, but he bogeyed 11 and 12 and made a double at the par-5 13th. He blamed the meltdown on bad luck. He eventually fell all the way to a tie for 26th.

The Open

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Winner: Collin Morikawa

What happened: Morikawa became the first player to win two majors in his debut, capturing The Open by shooting a final-round 66 without a bogey to defeat Jordan Spieth by 2 shots at Royal St. George’s.

Best moment: Morikawa’s three-birdie stretch on the seventh, eighth and ninth holes during the final round pushed him ahead for the first time and he was never matched again.

Honorable mention: An endearing victory speech on the 18th green in which Morikawa thanked his parents, brother, girlfriend, coach and caddie, and applauded the crowd for the way it cheered on the players during the week. Nobody minded that he called the tournament “The British Open.” For the record, it is The Open.

Worst moment: Jordan Spieth’s finish on Saturday. He missed the 17th green from less than 100 yards, leading to a bogey. He then three-putted the 18th for another bogey, missing his par putt from 2 feet. Those two shots proved to be the difference in the final round

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