Kapalua, Hawaii Collin Morikawa can make golf easy. He has a hit on his mind and the ball flies where he is looking. The Sentry Tournament of Champions is different in that it includes lawn kicks.
He was especially effective on Saturday when he scored goals in Kapalua’s back nine, which usually gave the players a chance to catch up in a hurry. Morikawa hit four of the last five holes and pulled away.
He finished with a 15-foot birdie for 8 to 65, giving him a six-hit lead going into the final round and a great chance to shake off last year’s sour taste.
When asked if he was itching to win again — his last win was the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November 2021 — Morikawa smiled.
“Yes, that would be an understatement,” he said.
Late last year, the two-time world champion hired putting coach Stephen Sweeney. It’s not a major change with his stroke, other than a better understanding of what he’s doing. He leads Kapalua in putting, combined with his clean iron play, this can be a scary combination.
Morikawa has yet to make a 54-hole scarecrow in the Kapalua plantation course, and has rarely come close to it. He made a 10-foot par shot on the fourth hole to avoid a long triple, making it as clean as many of his birdies.
“Today was pretty easy. Something like what I’ve been looking for the last three days was like where the ball was going,” he said. “I kind of know what I’m doing right and when I throw a bad punch where the mistake is. It is most important”.
Morikawa was 24 under 195, six shots away from US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, Masters champion Scotty Sheffler and Texas Open winner JJ Spawn.
Morikawa is among the 10 Kapalua players who failed to win last year. Now it’s a prestigious $15 million purse event, and the PGA Tour has decided to expand the field to include everyone who makes it to the FedEx Cup Finals in East Lake.
One more round like that and Morikawa can be sure he’ll have a tee-time next year.
Scheffler, who started two shots behind with Spawn, tried to keep up with Morikawa. The birdies dried up on the back nine, however, and Scheffler missed a 4-foot birdie shot on a par-5 on the 18th that could at least get him into the final group. I had to settle for 69.
Fitzpatrick had five birds on the last seven holes of round 66 and will be in the final group for his first trip to Hawaii.
Spawn hit the back nine, one when his ball bounced off the 13th green and rolled 50 yards down the fairway, the other when his second shot on the 15th par-5 went left and hit home grass. He had 69.
Max Homa didn’t have a problem with Kapalua, hit a career-high 10 birdies in 63 and wondered exactly how he did it. This only brought him to eight throws from the lead.
“I didn’t feel like I played four shots better than I did in the last two days combined, but I did it,” he said. “It’s just not a good game for your mind. But it was nice to shoot 10 less.”
Jordan Spieth was three shots behind to start the third round and lost ground with three ghosts in his round of 71.
Everyone is chasing Morikawa and it looks hopeless.
Morikawa started scoring with a 12-foot eagle on the fifth par 5 hole, hit a hard 20-foot birdie on the next and got it right with so few mistakes.
The turning point came early on the sixth hole after Morikawa and Scheffler made heads and the lead was still two. Morikawa made his 20-foot birdie while Scheffler moved from furry laying on the rough to the green and then hit three hits to come down. There were four ahead, and no one came closer than three shots to the end of the journey.
Only seven players in PGA Tour history have ever lost a six-stroke lead before the final round, most recently Dustin Johnson at HSBC Champions Shanghai in 2017.
Asked when was the last time he had a big lead, Morikawa smiled and mentioned the Hero World Challenge at the end of 2021, when he led by five, 76 shots and finished fifth.
“It’s all right,” he said. “I’m over it.”
Lighter winds were predicted for the last round, and Morikawa said he expected the players behind him to shoot at the flags and try to catch him.
From what Spawn saw in Morikawa in the second round, that might not be enough.
“He plays very well. He doesn’t miss,” Spawn said. “It’s a difficult combination.”
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