ASSOCIATED PRESS/RAFU REPORT
It would be difficult to arrange a better year’s end for Collin Morikawa, as he was in the hunt for the title at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
Morikawa was two strokes off the lead in the tournament in Nassau, where a win would afford him the chance to reach No. 1 in the world in only his 61st tournament worldwide as a pro. That would be the second-quickest ascent to the top of the world in golf behind Tiger Woods (21 starts).
For a bit of added magic, Morikawa announced Nov. 30 that he is now engaged to longtime girlfriend Katherine Zhu.
“That is by far the best thing that’s happened to me this year, the rest of my life,” he said. “It was really special.”
He figured that after five years “it was time,” and she said, “yes.”
None of this seems to faze Morikawa, not after a year in which he won his first World Golf Championship, his second major at the British Open and became the first American to be No. 1 on the European Tour when he won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai two weeks ago.
And to think it was just over 18 months ago that he picked up his business degree from UC Berkeley.
“I wouldn’t call it surprised,” Morikawa said after a pro-am round that included cricket legend Brian Lara. “I set a lot of lofty goals and they’re reasonable goals — they’re not unreasonable — but I set a lot of high goals and that’s just the standard I live up to. It always has been. I just keep pushing myself.”
At the moment, there appears to be no limit for a game already renowned for pure irons and a repeatable swing that rarely gets him too far off course.
On the course, this holiday event in the Bahamas is taking on a little more meaning for Bryson DeChambeau seeking a small measure of revenge.
One week after getting whipped by Brooks Koepka in Las Vegas at their made-for-TV match, DeChambeau made five birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn at Albany on Friday, and overcame a late double bogey from a wild drive for an 8-under 64. That was good for a one-shot lead going into the weekend.
The group one shot behind included Koepka, of course, who made a 12-foot par putt on the final hole for a second straight 67.
They won’t be in the final group on Saturday, though DeChambeau would appear to relish that chance. “That would be sweet,” he said to Golf Channel.
Koepka shrugged and said, “I already proved everything.”
Morikawa, not one for petty battles, made a strong move on the back nine with a birdie-birdie-eagle sequence until falling victim to the tough 18th, playing into a strong breeze. His bogey led to a 66, but he was right where he needed to be.
“Just got to use that momentum for tomorrow,” he said.
A victory against this 20-man field is the only way Morikawa can reach No. 1 in the world, and only then for a week before Jon Rahm — not playing this week — is projected to return to the top based on the two-year rolling formula.
Still, just getting there is a big deal. And with this tournament offering world ranking points, this would be as good a chance as any.
Besides, hit-and-giggle is not Morikawa’s style.
“I’m here to win and we’re here to play golf,” he said. “You can look at it as a vacation, but at the end of the day I still want to come out here and play really well. And obviously, over the past month-and-a-half it’s been some pretty good golf. And hopefully, we can just lean on that to finish off this year and head into 2022.”