Collin Morikawa begins the Tour Championship in fifth at 5 under under the second-year FedEx Cup Playoff format.
Last year, so did Rory McIlroy.
Morikawa enters his East Lake Golf Club debut this week five shots behind leader Dustin Johnson in the PGA Tour’s season finale in Atlanta, a feat that’s entirely conquerable as McIlroy proved last year.
Does the 23-year-old PGA Championship winner take any comfort in the fact that he’s in position to pull off a win in the season’s final tournament?
He’s played too much golf to read that much into it.
“Yeah. I mean, Rory is obviously a very, very good player, but five shots, that can be a lot, that can be a little,” Morikawa said Wednesday. “You don’t know how the guys are going to play ahead of you. You don’t know how anyone is going to play below you. All you can really do is show up on Friday and play good golf. … We’ve got a lot of work to do, obviously, being five shots out, but to know that it’s been done is nice.”
McIlroy and Morikawa’s situations approaching the Tour Championship aren’t entirely the same — McIlroy, then 30, already had 16 Tour wins under his belt to Morikawa’s three, including four majors (two PGA Championships) to Morikawa’s one — but there are similarities.
Each golfer had two wins and only two missed cuts headed into the Tour’s season finale. McIlroy finished T-19 at the BMW Championship in 2019 while Morikawa finished T-20 last week.
And then there’s the biggest factors: hunger and resolve.
Both finished the second half of their respective seasons playing impressive golf. Two months ahead of the 2019 Tour Championship, McIlroy had four top-10s in seven events. Morikawa’s past two months have looked noticeably different compared to last season’s schedule due to the Tour’s 13-week break amid the coronavirus pandemic, but in eight events, he notched three top-10s, two of them wins.
Since golf’s return, Morikawa has done more than create buzz — he’s proven he’s a threat. He shot rounds of 64 and three consecutive 67s at the Charles Schwab Challenge to take Daniel Berger to a playoff and place second in the Tour’s return.
Two weeks later, he missed the first cut of his Tour career at the Travelers Championship. It didn’t deflate him. In his next start, he won the Workday Charity Open at 19 under after taking Justin Thomas to a thrilling three-hole playoff at Muirfield Village. Who could forget the moment Morikawa made a 25-foot putt on the first playoff hole to extend the playoff following a 50-footer by Justin Thomas?
What a savage.
One month ago on Tour, Morikawa became the fourth player since World War II to win the PGA Championship before turning 24, joining some guys name Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Oh, and McIlroy.
Not only did Morikawa impress with his eagle on 16 that led him to becoming one of the youngest major winners in history, he endeared fans with his compelling look of horror as the lid of the Wanamaker Trophy toppled during his first trophy hoist as a major winner.
Since the biggest win of his career, Morikawa admitted he’s struggled with finding his footing again. In his first start after winning at TPC Harding Park, Morikawa missed the second cut of his career at the Northern Trust, but last week at the BMW Championship, he seemed to regain some of that mojo. He shot back-to-back 68s in the third and final rounds to finish at 5 over at the challenging Olympia Fields course.
Good enough to finish fifth on the FedEx Cup points ranking and good enough to feel comfortable in Atlanta.
“It’s been kind of an up-and-down past couple weeks of trying to figure out how to play golf again after the PGA Championship, but we’re heading in the right direction,” Morikawa said. “You know, like I said, it’s kind of been a crazy ride since the win at the PGA, but I think everything is pretty much settled down now and I’m ready to play some really good golf this week.”
He’s in a good position to “play some really good golf” not only because of the success he’s had this season, but because before that, there was a significant shift in maturity and confidence.
The former Cal-Berkeley golfer was asked Wednesday what he’s done to become so visibly comfortable on Tour since his first win at the 2019 Barracuda Championship.
“I think winning last year early helped,” Morikawa said. “Obviously the 3M loss helped. But just getting out here, getting comfortable with these guys, these guys being really nice to me out here, being able to play with no status just really helped me. And then I believed I could do it. … Out here you’ve got to be sharp, and how do you get as consistent as some of the guys when they’re really at their peaks finishing top 5, finishing top 10s in pretty much every event. That’s what I want to get to.
“Wins will start coming, more wins will start coming like that. So it’s just figuring out that kind of specific routine and strategy to get there.”
This week, Morikawa already feels confident despite never competing at East Lake. Even before playing nine holes Tuesday and the other nine Wednesday, Morikawa said he felt like he already knew several holes because of what he’s seen on TV from previous Tour Championships, especially with Woods’ win two years ago.
His practice rounds early this week gave him the opportunity to survey the course.
“Fairways are going to be key. … Overall I think the course looks really good. Fits a lot of my tee shots,” Morikawa said. “I don’t really feel uncomfortable with any of them, which is always nice heading to a course. But yeah, I think there’s going to be some birdies out there for sure.”
Morikawa tees off his quest for his first FedEx Cup in Friday’s first round at 2 p.m. ET alongside Daniel Berger.