Collin Morikawa continues to separate himself from his generation

Collin Morikawa is quickly pulling away from his peers following his fourth PGA Tour title at the WGC-Workday Championship on Sunday

There will never be another Tiger Woods. For as often as the label “the next Tiger” is bandied about, there will never be a player who matches Tiger’s physical strength and mental fortitude, who can make the rest of the field realize they’re playing for second.

Of this generation, the group of players who grew up knowing only Tiger’s dominance, Collin Morikawa is proving to be the closest to matching what Tiger accomplished. Morikawa, three weeks past his 24th birthday, won his fourth PGA Tour title on Sunday and his first World Golf Championship, blowing past the field at the WGC-Workday Championship with a performance that would make his childhood idol proud.

That’s not to say he wasn’t tested on Sunday. Morikawa built as much as a five-shot lead during the third round, an advantage that had completely dissipated after he bogeyed his second hole of the final round. But he came back with three birdies in a five-hole stretch making the turn. In a field that included 47 of the top-50 players in the world, Morikawa won by three at 18-under, his ascent to the top of the golfing world taking a giant leap.

“It shows that I can come out here and compete,” Morikawa told NBC’s Steve Sands after holing a par putt on the 18th green. Morikawa came onto the tour as part of a cohort of young stars that included Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland. The win this week, though, puts him in a different stratosphere from those two. He’s now the only player under 25 with four PGA Tour titles. He’s one of seven players since World War II with four wins and a major before the age of 25, a list that includes Tiger. And he and Tiger are now the only two players with a major and WGC at this age.

Growing up in Southern California, Morikawa idolized Woods. He wasn’t even born when Woods turned pro and was just two months old when Woods won the Masters in 1997. For Morikawa’s entire life, Woods has been the best player in the game. And with his idol in a Los Angeles hospital bed after his car accident on Tuesday, Morikawa wanted to show his appreciation by wearing Tiger’s traditional red-and-black Sunday ensemble; while the shirt failed to arrive in time for him to wear it, Woods was still clearly on his mind.

“Tiger means everything to me,” Morikawa said. “Yes, he had the crash and thankfully he’s all right and hopefully he has a quick and full recovery. But I don’t think we say thank you enough. So I want to say thank you, Tiger.”

Morikawa will likely never win 15 majors like Tiger, but it was a Tiger-esque performance this week. His new putting style, adopted following a lesson from Mark O’Meara, allowed him to finish 12th this week on the greens. He’s already the best iron player on tour. His mental toughness, as he showed time and again on Sunday, is nearing Tiger’s level.

He’s not the next Tiger, but perhaps in 20 years, when his career is winding down, someone will be handed the label “next Morikawa.”