Fourteen months ago, Collin Morikawa was finishing up his college career at the University of California-Berkeley, just a short trip across the Bay Bridge from TPC Harding Park, site of the 102nd PGA Championship. Morikawa figures he played the jewel of the Bay Area’s municipal courses at least a dozen times during his college career. So, how much has that familiarity helped him this week?
“Other than knowing how to get here off the freeway without my phone and not get a ticket by the police, no, it has not helped me at all,” Morikawa said.
On Saturday, the 23-year-old SoCal native didn’t need to rely on any local NorCal knowledge because he played with the calm of a steely-eyed veteran, making seven birdies, including three of his final four holes to shoot 5-under 65 at TPC Harding Park.
“He played the kind of round today that I woke up thinking I’d like to play,” said former Masters champion Adam Scott, who played alongside him. “It was really incredibly solid. He was in complete control, really, of all parts of his game.”
With two wins under his belt, most recently at the Workday Charity Open in July, Morikawa, ranked No. 12 in the world, already has lived up to his advancing billing coming out of Cal. His ball-striking is sublime – he ranks T-4 in driving accuracy and third in approach proximity – and has served him well as he climbed up the leaderboard. Morikawa, who tied for the low round of the day, improved to 7-under 203, tied for fourth and just two strokes behind leader Dustin Johnson.
The difference this week has been Morikawa’s molten putter. If there is an Achilles’ heel in his game, Morikawa has struggled on the greens, most notably when he missed a 3-foot putt on the first playoff hole to lose to Daniel Berger in the Charles Schwab Challenge in June.
Morikawa credited his caddie, J.J. Jackovic, for helping him with his putting mechanics and learned from watching superb putters Steve Stricker, with whom he played a practice round Tuesday, and Zach Johnson, his playing competitor in the first two rounds. Morikawa’s putter remained fiery on Saturday, as he gained more than four strokes on the field on the greens and h now ranks fourth in Strokes Gained: Putting this week.
Morikawa made a pair of 22-foot birdie putts early at the third and fifth holes and a 7-foot birdie at 7 to shoot 3-under 32 on his opening nine. He tacked on a short birdie at 10 before hitting a road bump with bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13. But Morikawa wasn’t done yet. He rattled off three birdies in a row beginning at 15, and capped by sinking an 18-foot birdie putt at 17.
Could Morikawa nab his first major title in just his second start in one of golf’s Grand Slam events? Scott, for one, wouldn’t be surprised at all.
“He played major championship kind of golf today, and you know, it’s easy to say he’s got all the credentials, but he’s kind of proving it,” he said.