Collin Morikawa played nearly flawless golf over a stretch of 10 holes Saturday, but he scuffled a bit over the final six holes and had to settled for a two-stroke lead heading into the final round of the Workday Championship.
The 24-year-old Cal grad made eight birdies — and one bogey — between the third and 12th holes to forge a five-stroke lead over the field. Starting on the fifth hole, Morikawa made five birdies in a row — a career-long run.
“I just kept rolling in birdie after birdie. I didn't really think about it," he said. “Golf was simple.”
Photo by Mike Walters, USA Today
But he had two bogeys and no more birdies over the final six holes while those chasing him warmed up.
When the day was done, Morikawa was in the clubhouse at 15 under par, with Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel each just two back minus 13. Webb Simpson is at 12 under and Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed at 11 under. A total of 10 golfers are within five strokes at the top of the leaderboard.
“Anything can happen,” Morikawa acknowledged.
The reigning PGA Championship winner will need to be sharp on Sunday to hold off the field and capture his fourth career tour title.
Armed with his new claw putting grip, Morikawa made 23 birdies over the first 48 holes at The Concession Golf Club at Bradenton, Florida.
Morikawa’s fellow Cal grad Max Homa fired a 67 on Saturday to move from a tie for 35th place to 19th. Homa, 30, is coming off his second career victory a week ago at The Genesis Invitational.
While Morikawa was reeling off birdie after birdie, Homa suggested their shared alma mater was taking charge of the sport:
A day earlier, Morikawa carded nine birdies and one bogey to score 64, leaving him one stroke behind 36-hole leader Koepka.
On Saturday, Morikawa made par on his first two holes of the third round, then had a birdie on No. 3 before a bogey on No. 4.
Then he birdied No. 5 with a 15-foot putt. Then No. 6, where he knocked in a 30-footer. And 7 and 8 and 9. Five in a row was a career-best streak, leaving him at 31 for the front nine.
After a par on the 10th, Morikawa birdies Nos. 11 and 12.
But he three-putted the 13th for a bogey and his torrid stretch was over.
“I never got it going again,” Morikawa said.
Meanwhile, his rivals were just getting warmed up.
Koepka shot 3-under par over the final 7 holes and Horschel had a par on 16 and an eagle on 17. McIlroy had four birdies and an eagle over the back nine to finish with a 66.
From the seemingly sturdy five-stroke edge, Morikawa now has a fight on his hands Sunday.
Cover photo of Collin Morikawa by Mike Walters, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
The burden of fame never faded, but Tiger Woods showed a softer side, a more appreciative outlook in the past few years. Never was that more than the case than in December, where the joy of a father playing golf with his son could not have been more apparent.
The PNC Challenge with Tiger and 11-year-old Charlie playing golf before a national TV audience will have to do for the foreseeable future. It was like witnessing a mini-Tiger for a couple of days, dressed the same as his dad, mimicking the walk, the mannerisms, the swing and even the fist pumps. Tiger glowed when Charlie made an eagle on his own ball on the first day of the event. He looked that way, too, as they wrapped up the tournament, the memory of a lifetime.
What happened Tuesday brought that all into focus as the details of significant injuries, especially to his right leg, came to light after hours of surgery following a car crash in which Woods' vehicle rolled multiple times.
That Tiger emerged from it and was reported by his team to be alert is significant given the images we all saw of his car; the result could have been so much worse. Any talk of him returning to competitive action is simply venturing into dark territory, a place with no clear path. It is impossible to know now what is ahead for him, both in the coming days and weeks, as well as into the future.
"I think the only thing that really matters now is his well-being, his recovery, his family, the level of support that we provide to him,'' PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said at The Concession, site of this week's World Golf Championship event. "Listen, when Tiger wants to talk about golf, we'll talk about golf, but I think right now the entirety of our efforts needs to be around the support.''
By Thursday afternoon, shock and dismay at the WGC Workday Championship had turned to reality and relief. There was still disbelief, followed by the realization that Woods was in bad shape. There, too, was the important truth that he is alive.
Of course, he won't be out here among the players anytime soon, and the knowledge that the game's biggest star will be missing from action is a stark reminder of what he brings to the sport.
"He means a lot to the players,'' said Brooks Koepka, who was in a memorable duel down the stretch with Woods in the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive. "He means a lot for the tour. He's the one who brings the fans. He's the whole reason probably 90% of us are out here playing. The only reason the sponsors are here is because of him.
"The tour -- everything they've done is basically because of Tiger. Without him our game is a long way behind. So, everything we do is because of him.''Tiger Woods, long a loner, had started to embrace players on Tour, like Justin Thomas. Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
It comes at a time when it was clear Woods was reaching a different stage of his golf life. He enjoyed the banter among other competitors, something he shunned with a passion in his prime. He loved giving players a hard time, making jokes, and taking it in return.
Several years ago, before all of Woods' injury woes, I had the rare opportunity to speak with him at length during the pro-am for a European Tour event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. There was but a smattering of spectators following, and the subject of the players Woods had consulted for advice in his younger days was one he had embraced.
In his first visits to Augusta National in 1995 and 1996, and again the year he won it for the first time as a pro, Woods sought out the legends of the game. He played with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. He sought chipping advice from Raymond Floyd and Jose Maria Olazabal. He soaked it all in.
And then he asked: "How come I never get questions from the young guys?''
My response: "Because they are afraid to ask.''
The wall Woods built up around him was often impenetrable. There was little conversation. Only the closest of the close got to know him.
That ice eventually began to melt after he returned from the spinal fusion surgery to play a full schedule in 2018. Woods knew that procedure was no guarantee. In fact, at one point, he admitted, "I thought I was done.'' He embraced this opportunity to play again. He was buoyed by the young guys in his South Florida neighborhood -- Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler -- who were suddenly bugging him to play and picking his brain.
For those who got to play with him for the first time, they got an experience they'd never forget.
Austin Cook, then in just his second year on tour, played with Woods in August at the Northern Trust and sensed by the scores after three rounds he might be playing with Tiger.
"When I saw the message come through that I was paired with him, I had to take a deep breath,'' he said. "I knew I'd be nervous. I was going to be teeing off in front of the guy I had always looked up to, my idol on the golf course. I will always remember that.
"He was a really nice guy. He answered my questions, started some conversations, never big-dogged me. For a guy in his position, I understand. It was pretty cool.''
Woods was self-deprecating about all the attention, saying then "it just means that I'm old.''
But he clearly understood what it meant to them, posing for photos after rounds, signing autographs for the guys he just played against.
That summer, Woods was bitterly disappointed when he was unable to hold onto the lead at Carnoustie, where he led The Open into the back nine but eventually tied for sixth. His daughter, Sam, was there, as was Charlie. They were old enough to understand what their dad did for living.
"I know that they know how much this championship means to me and how much it feels good to be back playing again,'' he said.Tiger Woods, with his son, Charlie, and his daughter, Sam, at the 2015 Masters. AP Photo/David J. Phillip
And he won again, grabbing the 2018 Tour Championship for his 80th career victory. Then, of course, came the epic victory at Augusta National in 2019, his fifth Masters win and 15th major title.
"I don't think people to this day realize the struggle and the things he had to deal with to get to that point to win Augusta in 2019,'' said Rory McIlroy, who recalled a 2017 lunch with Woods following the fusion surgery in which Tiger could barely get up to walk. "Look, I don't want to take anything away from what Ben Hogan did after his car crash or any of the other comebacks that athletes have had in other sports, but right now I can't think of any greater comeback in sports than the journey that he made from that lunch we had in 2017 to winning the Masters a couple years later.''
Woods was back, and Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler and some of the others he played with in South Florida enjoyed getting to know their idol. They sought his counsel, and unlike those times earlier in his career, Woods was willing to share his knowledge.
The fact that he opened up to the masses more, not just fellow players but also fans and media, gave a clear indication he was grateful for a chance that he once thought impossible.
Things went a bit sour in 2020. After an incredible end to 2019 with an 82nd PGA Tour victory and starring role at the Presidents Cup, Woods fell off. His back began to bother him more frequently. The pandemic interrupted the season. He never got comfortable playing without fans. Eventually, another back procedure was required.
Before that microdiscectomy, however, he played in the PNC Championship with Charlie, who has since turned 12. Tiger was hurting. His son became the star of the show. It was revealing to see Tiger share a rare personal side. Uncomfortable talking about it, Woods nonetheless beamed with pride.
The hope was that the improvement in Charlie's game -- they had played often together during the pandemic -- would push Dad to make sure his own game remained sharp.
Now, though, we are left with those pleasant images of Team Woods in red, with the beaming smile and fist bumps and good times. And we are left with a long time to wait and wonder if we will ever see Tiger Woods play golf again.
Collin Morikawa reportedly made what is being described as a “dramatic switch to his putting grip,” and it seems have paid off on Friday.
The 2019 Cal grad, who celebrated his 24th birthday earlier this month, shot an eight-under 64 in the second round of the Workday Championship in Bradenton, Florida, to move into a tie for second place.
Morikawa, at 11-under 134, trails Brooks Koepka by a single stroke heading into Saturday’s third round.
Morikawa had nine birdies and one bogey over the par-72 course at the Concession and afterward was feeling very good about his putting game.
"My putting has never felt this good, and whether I make or miss putts, knowing that my stroke is good, line-wise, tempo, that's all that matters," Morikawa told reporters.
"I'm going to read some great one day and not the others, and the days like today where I read them great, we're going to be going low.”
Morikawa is tied with Cameron Smith and Billy Horschel for second place.
He shot a 2-under 70 in the opening round, during which he made six birdies but also two bogeys and a double-bogey six on the par-4 16th.
Fellow Cal grad Max Homa, coming off his second career tour victory at The Genesis Invitational last week, shot a 70 on Friday and resides in an eight-way tie for 35th place at minus-1. He opened with a 73 in the first round.
Morikawa, the reigning PGA Championship winner, had seventh-place finishes at the Sentry Open and Sony Open on back-to-back January weekends.
He altered his grip prior to The Genesis Invitational last week and struggled to a tie for 43rd place, with 73s in both the first and final rounds.
Alex Myers, in Golf Digest, wrote about the change Morikawa made and the difference it made:
Despite being the reigning PGA champ and the sixth-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, Morikawa made a dramatic switch to his putting grip before the Genesis Invitational. It didn't work.
Morikawa made the cut, but finished dead last in strokes-gained/putting among the 67 golfers who played the weekend. When you're ranked 213th on tour for the season in the stat, it's tough to do worse, but that's what Morikawa did, losing nearly two shots per round.
This business administration major from Cal-Berkeley is no dummy, though, and he understands what a small sample size is. So Morikawa gave the saw grip another chance this week and the results on Friday were fantastic as he rolled in nine birdies and gained 1.2 strokes on the greens, an improvement of more than three strokes from last week and nearly two strokes from his season average.
Morikawa’s 64 matched the best score of his professional career, the sixth time he’s done it.
Cover photo of Collin Morikawa by Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo