Planet Golf — 06 January 2023 by GW staff and news services
Rahm overcomes 7-stroke lead for win

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Jon Rahm began the bold new year on the PGA TOUR by coming from seven shots behind to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday with plenty of help from Collin Morikawa.

Rahm was six shots behind on the 13th hole at Kapalua when he ran off three straight birdies and a 12-foot eagle putt, and his final birdie gave him a 10-under 63.

Morikawa had gone 67 holes without a bogey on the Plantation Course when it all fell apart with his wedges and his putter, the two areas that had carried him to a six-shot lead at the start of the day.

From 25 yards short of the 14th green, he blasted out of a bunker and over the green. He muffed a wedge from a tight lie with the grain of grass into him on the par-5 15th. His wedge to the 16th didn’t go far enough and rolled some 60 feet back into the fairway.

Morikawa looked to be in a state of shock as he walked down the 17th fairway, leading by as many as seven shots during the final round and suddenly finding himself two shots behind and running out of hope.

He wound up tying a PGA TOUR record for losing the largest 54-hole lead at six shots. Seven other players have done that, most recently Dustin Johnson in the fall of 2017 at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

Rahm finished at 27-under 265 to win by two shots over Morikawa, who birdied the 18th hole — his first birdie since No. 6 — to close with a 72.

It was the second such collapse by Morikawa in a little more than a year. He closed out 2021 at the Hero World Challenge and had a five-shot lead with a chance to reach No. 1 in the world with a victory. He shot 76 and finished fifth.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler had a chance to return to No. 1 this week if he finished in a two-way tie for third or better. He had to settle for a 70 and tied for seventh.

It was a small measure of redemption for Rahm, who last year finished at 33-under par at Kapalua which was a PGA TOUR record that lasted only a few seconds. Cameron Smith finished at 34 under to win by one.

Rahm now is 60 under in his last two appearances at Kapalua. The victory was his ninth on the PGA TOUR and 17th worldwide, and assured he will be back on Maui to start 2024.

Rahm now has won three times in his last six starts worldwide — he won in Spain and Dubai late last year — and he goes home with $4.2 million.

Rahm won $2.7 million from the $15 million purse at Kapalua, the first of the elevated events on the PGA TOUR schedule. He also gets 25 percent of his Player Impact Program bonus money — he finished No. 5 in the PIP for $6 million.

The Spaniard now has won in each of his seven full years on the PGA TOUR.

Tom Hoge had a 64 and tied for third with Max Homa (66). Hoge headed for the airport to go to Los Angeles to watch his school, TCU, playing for the national championship against Georgia. Hoge then will go back to Hawaii for the Sony Open.


KAPALUA, Maui – Every so often it all falls into place.

So it’s gone for Collin Morikawa, the only player in the field without a bogey and the 54-hole leader by six after shooting a third-round 65 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

“Yeah, it’s been pretty simple today,” said Morikawa, who will be playing for his sixth PGA TOUR title (two of which came at majors) on Sunday. “Kind of over the past three days, is where I’ve been looking is kind of where the ball’s been going. I kind of know what is doing right and when I hit a bad shot, kind of what the mistake was. That’s the biggest thing.”

Scottie Scheffler, who would go back to world No. 1 with a two-way tie for third or better, shot 69 to tie Matt Fitzpatrick (66) and J.J. Spaun (69) at 18 under, a half dozen shots behind.

It will be hard to catch the leader, for reasons both obvious (a comfortable lead) and not. The obvious reason is Morikawa is not only crushing Kapalua from tee to green (he often does, no matter the course), but he’s also putting lights-out. His 15-foot birdie putt on 18 Saturday, his fourth birdie in the last five holes, was emblematic of his week.

The key stat for the leader so far: Morikawa, who ranked 131st in Strokes Gained: Putting last season, is No. 1 for the week at the Sentry. He gives much of the credit to new putting coach Stephen Sweeney, an Irishman who is based in Florida.

“He’s putting really good,” Spaun said of Morikawa. “He doesn’t miss a shot. It’s a hard combo to beat.”

Morikawa has ranked inside the top 10 in SG: Putting in four tournaments, and won two of them. He’s also first in scrambling (6-for-6), which bodes well for his new relationship with short game specialist and TOUR winner Parker McLachlin.

The other factor working in Morikawa’s favor is good Maui vibes. His paternal grandparents were born here and owned a restaurant in Lahaina. When the Maui News wrote about it, a reader found an old matchbook from that restaurant on eBay, bought it for $7.50, and sent it to Morikawa via an assist from NBC’s Mark Rolfing, the PGA TOUR, and Morikawa’s agent.

It says: “Morikawa restaurant Delicious meals Beer-wine and sake M. Morikawa prop.”

“It’s amazing,” said Morikawa, who is with his wife, brother, and parents this week. “I mean, to think what Front Street means to the island of Maui and to the city of Lahaina. Every time we walk by, my dad, I know he just kind of goes back to being a kid.”

The abundance of positive mojo at Kapalua comes in the first week of a new year that couldn’t get here fast enough for Morikawa, who fought his game (his signature fade went missing); tried a new putter (changing to a mallet at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, where he missed the cut); did not win; and generally gnashed his teeth.

For a dynamic young player who had become the first to win the PGA Championship and Open Championship in his first cracks at both, the season was an unhappy grind.

“That middle of the season really from PLAYERS all the way through playoffs just felt like it never ended,” he said. “It was just like I play a tournament, you get back home, you play another tournament, play two more. You’re always searching.”

He rediscovered his fade, and in November started working with Sweeney – the first putting coach of his career. Feeling more at ease on the greens, Morikawa finished T15 at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, his best result of the fall.

It was 13 months ago that Morikawa took a five-shot lead into the final round of the unofficial Hero World Challenge – and lost. In retrospect, it seems to have been an omen for a forgettable 2022. But as he picks apart the Plantation Course, with his tee-to-green game in peak form and his putting better than ever, Morikawa is making all that a distant memory.


KAPALUA, Maui – Collin Morikawa shot a second-round 66 and is two ahead of Scottie Scheffler (66) and J.J. Spaun (68) halfway through the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

The story behind the score is that Morikawa ranks first in Strokes Gained: Putting, which owes at least partly to his putting coach, Stephen Sweeney, a new addition to the team since November.

“Before when I was putting it was like guess work,” said Morikawa, who didn’t win last season, when he ranked a distant 131st in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Guess work? Not this week, and Morikawa has been all smiles.

He’s had company. At the no-cut Sentry (38 players after Xander Schauffele withdrew), stress dies of natural causes and Strokes Gained: Happiness rules. True, there’s been almost no wind, and birdies have been plentiful. Also, the purse jumped from $8 million last year to $15 million this year, with $2.7 million going to the winner.

But those smiles also owe to the soft breeze, lapping waves, and a clean slate for ’23.

After an opening-round 67, Scott Stallings (72, 7 under) happily told of discovering a new set of his favorite irons, Titleist T100s (a line that has been discontinued), in the dark recesses of his garage in the off-season. He had his best year ever in 2022, but had worn the grooves right off his old T100s.

Luke List, a Sentry newbie, had an early tee time Friday, shot 65 (10 under, six back) and looked forward to joining his family by the hotel pool.

Will Zalatoris is elated just to be playing anywhere, shooting 69-69 in his first two rounds since returning from a season-ending back injury last fall.

All parties have won just by being here. 

“It’s a massive bonus,” said Jon Rahm, a runner-up here in 2018 and ’22.

Rahm, one of three players to break the PGA TOUR’s 72-hole scoring record at last year’s Sentry, struggled Friday. After a bogey-bogey start, he rallied but then finished bogey, par. His 71 snapped a streak of six straight rounds of 67 or better at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, and left him five back.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. Rahm and family – he and wife Kelley have two young boys – came to Maui early to avail themselves of the fun stuff. Between the whale-watching, zip-lining and, yes, the pool, every day is Christmas. You know, the one in which new Dallas resident Tom Kim spent Christmas Day at the home of Mr. Dallas Golf, Jordan Spieth.

Hey, family is where you find it.

Spieth, a 13-time PGA TOUR winner who won the 2016 Sentry, shot a second-round 66 and is just three behind. Kim, who carded a 69 Friday, is four back. Figures. The two had never met before last fall, but now are inseparable. They share a swing coach in Cameron McCormick, played Kapalua together Thursday, and enjoy a sort of big brother, little brother dynamic.

Speaking of family, Tony Finau (69, six back) hosted a low-key tournament here earlier this week for members of his team. Participants included his coach, Boyd Summerhays, and his coach’s accomplished golfing kids, one of whom, Preston, plays for Arizona State. Preston won the “family invitational” at Kapalua’s Bay Course with a 65. Finau shot 66.

“We’ve played the Bay Course a lot, like the years that I’ve been here,” said Finau, who already has one win this season, at the Cadence Bank Houston Open, and won in back-to-back starts last summer. “I just wanted to make something more official. I felt like there was just way too much talent in our family and in our group to not at least have something a little more official since we’re all down here and they like coming out here and watching me play this week.

“So, I put together a little purse,” he added, “and we had a good time.”

Scheffler would return to world No. 1 with a two-way tie for third or better. What’s happier than that? But perhaps the ultimate measure of Kapalua’s happy vibe is that it can take the sting out of even the pros’ least favorite subject: bad golf. Spaun is contending at the Sentry but made light of his struggles at the unofficial QBE Shootout last month, when he was tweaking his swing and, according to him, let down his partner, Keith Mitchell.

Someone asked Spaun: Are you still friends? “I don’t know,” Spaun said. “He hasn’t texted me since then. Not even a merry Christmas or Happy New Year.”

Not to worry, Spaun was just joking (we think), and Happy New Year can ring hollow, anyway. In Maui, where Spaun has rediscovered his game, Morikawa is draining putts, Zalatoris is competing, and Rahm and Spieth are lurking once again, those three little words actually come to life.


KAPALUA, Hawaii — Jon Rahm is starting to get used to low scoring on the Plantation Course at Kapalua. He can only hope this start leads to a better finish in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

One year after he was 33-under par and still finished second, Rahm birdied three of his last four holes for a 9-under 64 and shared the lead Thursday with Colin Morikawa and J.J. Spaun in an idyllic start to the year.

Morikawa began the back nine with six straight birdies, his longest such streak on the PGA TOUR. Spaun, at Kapalua for the first time, had four straight birdies on the back.

Last year’s 34 under winning score was a PGA TOUR record to par during a week of hardly any wind. Such was the case Thursday on a course that was firm and played even shorter because of severe slopes that can make shots roll much longer on the ground than they fly in the air.

Billy Horschel was the only player in the 39-man field who failed to break par. shooting 76. Xander Schauffele scratched out a 70 while dealing with a back issue that has surfaced for the second time in a month.

As for whether Kapalua owes him one, Rahm wasn’t buying.

“I can’t make a case for that on a lot of golf courses,” Rahm said. “I can’t say much, man. I shot 33 under. I got beat by 34 under. That’s just what it is. We both played really good golf. It was a great battle. Hopefully, if we get to that point again, hopefully it’s me and hopefully I end up winning by one.”

The Plantation Course is in prime shape: fast without being firm because of severe slopes that can make shots roll longer on the ground than they fly in the air.

Morikawa is among 10 players who failed to win last year and still got into the Tournament of Champions. Under the bold new PGA Tour schedule of elevated tournaments — the purse this week is $15 million — the Kapalua field was expanded to include anyone who reached the Tour Championship.

The two-time major champion is determined to fix deficiencies that slowed him last year, hiring putting coach Stephen Sweeney and turned to former player Parker McLachlin for help with his short game.

“I just have answers,” Morikawa said. “Before when I was putting, it was like it was guess work. I might have putted well today and then thought I was doing something, but in reality it was something else.”

Whatever he had Thursday was working, and it helped to see a 20-foot putt drop early. Then he ran off those six-straight birdies, only two of them outside 10 feet.

Tom Kim had two eagles, holing out from 116 yards on the downhill sixth hole and drilling a fairway metal to 5 feet on the par-5 15th. He was at 65, one shot behind.

Jordan Spieth was up to his high-wire act, missing a 2-foot par putt on one hole and holing a flop shot from the collar of a bunker just off the back of the 16th green to save par. He wound up with a 67.

Billy Horschel was the only player in the 39-man field who failed to break par with a 76.

Among those at 66 were Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who can return to No. 1 in the world with a top-three finish, and Tom Hoge, who has a big travel schedule ahead.

Hoge played college golf at TCU. He earned his spot at Kapalua for the first time, and he’ll be on Oahu next week for the Sony Open, a trip that will be some 5,000 miles. Hoge said he’ll leave Maui on Sunday night for Los Angeles to watch the Horned Frogs play for the national championship against Georgia, and then head back to Honolulu.

“We haven’t won since 1938,” Hoge said. “I might not get another chance in my lifetime.”

Xander Schauffele, who won at Kapalua in 2019 and lost in a playoff the following year, scratched out a 70 while dealing with a back issue that first surfaced a month ago at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. He’s not sure what’s wrong, only that he couldn’t swing very hard.

“I’m 29 and Hero was like the first like issue I’ve ever had, so this is new to me,” Schauffele said. “That’s why I don’t know how to answer these questions. I’ve never had to do this. Hopefully we don’t have these conversations more often.”

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