Planet Golf — 26 February 2021 by GW staff and news services
Like Tiger, Morikawa is a WGC champion

BRADENTON, Fla. — The plan was for PGA champion Collin Morikawa to wear a red shirt with his black pants Sunday to show support for Tiger Woods as he recovers from career-threatening leg injuries from a car crash.

The clothes shipped to him never arrived, so Morikawa did the next best thing at the Workday Championship.

He played like him.

Staked to a two-shot lead, Morikawa shook off an early mistake, regained control around the turn, delivered two clutch putts and then played a steady hand on a Concession Golf Club course known for calamity.

Just like Woods has done so often, Morikawa forced everyone to catch him. No one did, and his 3-under 69 gave him a three-shot victory for his first World Golf Championship.

“With how good the field was, how good my game felt, to close it out with such a stacked leaderboard coming after me, it really means a lot,” Morikawa said.

He became the 24th player to win a major and a World Golf Championship title, and the 24-year-old Californian joined Woods as the only players to win both before turning 25.

Woods was 23 when he won the first of his 18 World Golf Championships.

Morikawa, who finished at 18-under 270, won for the fourth time in his last 34 starts on the PGA Tour. He finished three ahead of Brooks Koepka (70), Viktor Hovland (67) and Billy Horschel (70), who played with Morikawa in the final group and witnessed the supreme iron play that made him so hard to catch.

As for that red shirt? Morikawa thinks it got stuck in Tennessee because of the weather. He even sent his caddie to the distribution center to see if it arrived.

Several other players wore the ensemble that Woods made famous, and Tony Finau took it an extra step by arriving at Concession with his cap turned backward.

Woods suffered serious injuries to his right leg and foot when his SUV crashed off a road and tumbled down a hill in the Los Angeles suburbs on Tuesday. After a prolonged surgery to put the shattered bones back together, he is recovering and was said to be in good spirits.

“Red and black, we know that’s what Tiger does on Sundays, so just to join in and just let Tiger know we’re supporting him in the best way we can,” Finau said. “We’re still playing and we miss him out here, but it was cool just to be a part of that.”

The inspiration came from Woods. The instruction came from a pair of major champions.

Morikawa was down on his putting a few weeks ago while at home in Las Vegas when he decided to try to the “saw” putting grip that Mark O’Meara perfected, He rotates his right hand so that his first two fingers extend down the grip. O’Meara recently moved to Las Vegas, and Morikawa sought him out.

And then at Concession, he asked club member Paul Azinger for help with his chipping on the Bermuda grass. Azinger said it took about 10 minutes, more about technique to get the bounce in the wedge more involved.

Both worked beautifully all week.

Rock solid with his game and his emotions, Morikawa choked up ever so slightly when it was over talking about Woods and what he has meant to the game, and his paternal grandfather, who died last month.

“You don’t get to say thank you enough,” Morikawa said. “So , ‘Thank you, guys.’”

Outside of a chunked chip on the second hole that made him scramble for bogey, Morikawa didn’t miss a fairway the rest of the way and was rarely out of position.

Horschel caught Morikawa after three holes and tried to stay with him. Koepka had the last good chance to catch him until, trailing by three with a 35-foot eagle chance on the 17th hole, he three-putted for par.

Hovland, who finished his second round with a quadruple bogey, might have had the best chance of all. Hovland someone managed to punch out of the wire grass and onto the green to make birdie on the par-5 13th, his seventh birdie of the round that pulled him with one shot.

His hopes effectively ended on the next hole. Just as Morikawa was pouring in an 8-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 12th hole, Hovland ran his 40-foot birdie putt some 15 feet past the hole on the par-3 14th, and missed the par putt.

Morikawa’s lead was back to three shots, and he never flinched the rest of the day.

Scottie Scheffler also was in the mix with six birdies in 12 holes. He drove into the water on the 16th and made double bogey, and shot 68 to finish fifth.

Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed, both dressed in red and black, never got anything going. McIlroy closed with a 71 to tie for sixth, while Reed shot a 72 and to finish another spot back.

“I think just for everyone to show their appreciation for what he means to us out here,” McIlroy said about the tribute. “If there was no Tiger Woods, I just the think the tour and the game of golf in general would be in a worse place. He’s meant a lot to us, he still does mean a lot to us and I think that was just a little way to show that.”

Third Round

BRADENTON, Fla. — PGA champion Collin Morikawa made seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch Saturday and made it look as though no one could catch him. All it took was two bad holes to turn the Workday Open into a chase.

Morikawa shot a 5-under 67 at the Concession Golf Club, a reasonable score except for what it could have been. When he drove to the front of the green on the 316-yard 12th hole and made an 8-foot birdie, he was at 17-under par and no one else was closer than five shots.

He wound up leading by two shots over Brooks Koepka, who got his mistakes out the way early and shot 70, and Billy Horschel. who had a 69.

Rory McIlroy, who made a double bogey for the second straight day, was hopeful of getting to 10 under to at least give himself a chance. He did one better with a 66, including an eagle on the par-5 13th that gave so many players fits, and wound up just four shots behind.

Morikawa was at 15-under 201.

His troubles began on the par-13th, and it looked harmless enough when he put his approach from the rough into the bunker and blasted out to just under 25 feet for look at yet another birdie. Except that he left his putt 6 feet short, and missed the next one to take bogey.

“I never got it going again,” Morikawa said.

He also made bogey on the par-5 17th, the easiest hole at Concession on Saturday, by finding a bunker off the tee, having to lay up short of the water, and then hitting into another bunker.

Morikawa found plenty of positives. He still had a two-shot lead. His putting stroke feels better than ever, and a chipping tip from Concession member Paul Azinger has left him confident on the short-game shots off the Bermuda grass.

Koepka is thankful he still has a chance.

Staked to a one-shot lead at the start of the third round, he opened with two straight bogeys, answered with a two-putt birdie on the third but then followed with eight straight pars and found himself seven shots behind.

Koepka finished with three birdies.

Horschel played alongside Morikawa, and he also felt like he gave one away on the 13th when he chipped from behind the green into a front bunker and made bogey, and then fell six shots back with four holes to play with another bogey.

But he birdied the 16th and made a 12-foot eagle putt on the 17th, and he was back in the game.

Webb Simpson had a 69 and was three shots behind, followed by McIlroy and Patrick Reed (69), who will play together on Sunday. Also in the mix was Viktor Hovland, who represents what this course can do.

Hovland was 7 under for his round on Friday when he bladed a bunker shot at the wrong time and finished with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the ninth hole. He put that behind him and had a better day. He holed out a wedge from thick rough 45 yards short of the green for eagle on No. 7, and he chipped in for birdie from 80 feet on the par-3 14th.

Hovland had a 66 and joined the group five shots behind at 206 that included Hideki Matsuyama (68).

Morikawa will be going for his fourth PGA Tour victory with a chance to join the list of players who have won majors and World Golf Championships.

His stretch of birdies began with a 15-footer on No. 5, included a 30-foot birdie on the next hole that rammed into the back of the cup, and the rest of them were putts from 10 feet or close.

“I just kept rolling in birdie after birdie. I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “Golf was simple.”

And as he looked back over three days, and the amount of calamity that can happen at the Concession, he realized that no lead is safe on this course.

“Anything can happen,” Morikawa said.

Second Round

BRADENTON, Fla. — Brooks Koepka hit one his worst tee shots of the day that barely cleared the water on the 15th hole. That turned out to be the start of three straight birdies that led to a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead Friday in the World Golf Championships – Workday Championship at The Concession.

In some respects, that’s how his recent surge has been.

Coming off a pair of missed cuts, Koepka won the Waste Management Phoenix Open to end an 18-month drought. And now he’s starting to hit his stride with big tournaments creeping up quickly.

Koepka hit a chip 9-iron to 6 feet for birdie on No. 15, nearly holed his wedge on the next hole and then birdied the par-5 17th with a splendid bunker shot across the ridges and down the slope to tap-in range.

He closed with a bogey by avoiding a deceptive pin near the water on the closing hole at The Concession. Koepka, who finished at 11-under 133, had a one-shot lead over Cameron Smith, Billy Horschel and PGA champion Collin Morikawa, who made up ground quick with six birdies over his last 10 holes.

“Usually I can never find my game until THE PLAYERS. That’s kind of when it starts to feel like it’s coming around,” Koepka said. “But the fact that it’s here a little bit early is nice.”

Koepka spent most of his offseason with trainer Derek Stone in San Diego, saying he has not spent more than about 25 days at his home in South Florida since August. It was all about getting his left knee healthy, and his game looks as good as his health.

A dozen players were separated by five shots going into the weekend of this World Golf Championship, which moved from Mexico City this year because of COVID-19 circumstances and is providing a vastly different test.

Players have gone from mile-high altitude to flat Florida, with fairways lined with water hazards and palmetto bushes and greens with wild slopes and contours.

Even with a 71-man field, the difference between first and last was a whopping 22 shots.

Morikawa matched the low score of the tournament with a 64. The other 64 belonged to U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who was 13 shots better than the opening round.

“It’s just a tale of golf. You can have both ends of the stick,” DeChambeau said. “I didn’t play terrible yesterday, I just didn’t get anything going my way, especially on that back nine. Had some bad mistakes and that’s what happened. I made some good putts and good strokes today that just luck went my way today.”

Defending champion Patrick Reed had three straight birdies to start the front nine after he made the turn, the last one coming after he topped a 3-wood in the fairway into a bunker, and blasted that out from 142 yards to 4 feet.

And then he had two bogeys, hitting his drive into the water on No. 5 when his left foot slipped, and hitting into the water on the par-4 eighth with a shot he feared would be a little long and instead came up woefully short.

Reed was three shots behind.

The strangest day belonged to Viktor Hovland, who was 7 under for his round and playing flawlessly until one hole at the end ruined it. From a fairway bunker on the par-4 ninth, Hovland went right into the pine straw. His chip went across the green into a bunker, leaving a tough shot that he sent back across the green into the woods that led to a penalty drop.

He didn’t get that one up to the green, pitched to 10 feet and holed that for a quadruple-bogey 8.

“It’s mainly the second shot in the bunker that’s a little bitter,” Hovland said. “That’s costing me four shots right there just that second shot. I hit a lot of good shots today and made a lot of putts, so it’s just unfortunate that one terrible shot comes at that time.”

Dustin Johnson was only slightly better. The world’s No. 1 player, who opened with a 77, had only one big penalty. He tried to drive the 12th green on the 308-yard 12th hole protected by a massive bunker complex. This went too far left into the bushes. He hit another drive into the bunker and got that up-and-down from 100 feet to at least save bogey.

Still, Johnson had to settle for a 69 and was 13 shots behind.

Jon Rahm, who opened with a 68, went the other direction. He ran off four straight bogeys on the back nine, mostly due to his short game and then a tee shot too far left that went into the water on the par-5 17th. Just when he was starting to turn it around, He went from the bunker into the water on the par-4 fifth for a double bogey. He shot 76 and was 11 back.

Rory McIlroy was stuck in neutral, trading seven birdies with three bogeys and one big mistakes when his bunker shot to lay up on the par-5 seventh hit the lip and caromed to the right into the pine straw. It took five shots to get to the green, and then he missed a 6-foot putt and made double bogey. McIlroy shot 70 and was six behind.

FIRST ROUND

BRADENTON, Fla. — Webb Simpson ran off three straight late birdies for a share of the lead Thursday in the WGC-Workday Championship at Concession. Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau ran up some big numbers.

Simpson matched Matthew Fitzpatrick with a 6-under 66 at The Concession in the World Golf Championships event moved from Mexico City to Florida because of COVID-19 circumstances.

Simpson’s finishing stretch included a wedge to 2 feet, a 30-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole and a two-putt birdie from about 40 feet on the par-5 17th.

Fitzpatrick, who contended last week at Riviera, played bogey-free on the Jack Nicklaus design that had never been used for a PGA TOUR event.

“Very pleased with the start,” Simpson said. “I worked on a couple things last week with putting alignment and with my driver and I saw good things from that today. You always want to see it first round back, but it doesn’t always happen that way, so I was happy to see like tough tee shots with trouble, really stepping up and making good swings.

“And made a lot of putts today,” he added, “so that was a good feeling.”

Johnson had his first Sunday round over par in a year when he shot 72 last week while in contention. The start at this World Golf Championship was even worse.

He drove left into the trees on the 18th hole as he was making the turn, had to pitch out sideways, came up short and then failed to get up-and-down to take double bogey. He made another double bogey on No. 5 with a tee shot into the water.

Johnson wasn’t alone in his struggles. DeChambeau also shot a 77, with his big trouble coming on the 16th. After a tee shot into the water, he went right of the fairway, came up short of the green and took three shots to get down for a triple bogey.

Bubba Watson had a 77, while Matthew Wolff shot an 83 and withdrew.

Brooks Koepka was a stroke out of the lead at 67 with Billy Horschel, Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner, who is playing for the first time since the Sony Open in Hawaii because his wife had their third child.

“If you’re on, you’re going to have chances. You’re going to be really good with the tee ball or you’re going to have chances with your iron play,” Horschel said. “If you’re off with your ball-striking and you miss in some tough spots, you can look pretty silly.”

Jon Rahm bogeyed the final hole late in the afternoon for a 68.

Tony Finau, coming off a playoff loss to Max Homa last week at Riviera, also was at 68 with defending champion Patrick Reed, Wade Ormsby, Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith.

Rory McIlroy had three bogeys in a 69.

“I think with any new course it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with visuals and lines off tees, and then I think we’re all sort of learning the golf course a little bit as we go along,” McIlroy said. “Most TOUR events we go to, we basically know where the four pin positions are going to be and we can practice to those.

“I think tee-to-green it’s pretty simple,” he said. “But then around the greens, I think it’s one of these places, the more you play it, the more you’ll just feel comfortable with it.”

Justin Thomas one-putted his last four holes — three birdies and one par — to salvage a 73 after he had dropped four shots in a three-hole stretch on his first nine. The par was a 10-footer on the par-5 seventh after it took him two shots to get out of a fairway bunker.

Homa, coming off the hometown win in Los Angeles, also had a 73.

Patrick Cantlay, who leads the FedExCup, withdrew before the start of the round with stomach and dehydration issues.

PUERTO RICO: Brandon Wu takes one-shot lead

RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico — Brandon Wu birdied the final two holes for a 5-under 67 and the second-round lead Friday in the PGA TOUR’s Puerto Rico Open.

Wu played the back nine in 4 under at windy Grand Reserve. He birdied the par-4 12th, par-5 15th, par-4 17th and par-5 18th to reach 11-under 133.

“It was kind of a grind,” Wu said. “I missed a short putt kind of early on in the round, made a bogey I think on my fourth hole. I kind of just had to keep my head down and play well on the back.”

The 24-year-old former Stanford player got into the field through the Korn Ferry Tour points list. He won the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in August, and tied for 14th last week in Florida in the first Korn Ferry event since early October.

“I think my game is in a good place,” Wu said. “It was good to see kind of the things I worked on during the offseason paying off. I did well last week, so that definitely gave me some confidence coming into this week.”

Greg Chalmers was a stroke back after a 68. The 47-year-old Australian also birdied his final two holes, the par-3 eighth and par-4 ninth. He had a hole-in-one on No. 8 in the opening round.

“The wind was really blowing,” Chalmers said. “I didn’t have the greatest control, and my short game really held me in good stead. I made some nice saves from sort of 6, 8 feet for par. It’s a little tricky to putt when the wind is blowing like this. And then I hung in there and started to see some better swings and better shots going into the back nine.”

Home star Rafael Campos and South Africa’s Branden Grace were 9 under.

Campos rebounded from a bogey on 17 with a birdie on 18 for a 69.

“I think I was just getting a little ahead of myself and I was missing a little bit to the right,” Campos said. “But I was missing in the correct spots. I really was. Which I’m happy with that today. I really never gave myself that many looks to score better, but I managed to deal with the situations as good as I could.”

Grace shot 68.

Jhonattan Vegas (68) and Cameron Percy (69) were 8 under.

First-round leader Tommy Gainey followed his opening 65 with a 76 to enter the weekend at 3 under. Ian Poulter also was 3 under after a 70.

The tournament is being played opposite the World Golf Championship event in Florida. The winner will get into the PGA Championship in May.

FIRST ROUND

RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico – Tommy Gainey birdied five of the last seven holes at breezy Grand Reserve for a 7-under 65 and the first-round lead Thursday in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open.

Gainey, the 45-year-old from South Carolina who won his lone PGA Tour title in 2012, had a one-stroke lead over local favorite Rafael Campos, Robert Garrigus, Taylor Pendrith, Lee Hodges, Greg Chalmers, Fabian Gomez and Brandon Wu.

“It’s windy. It’s Puerto Rico,” Gainey said. “I’m just glad that it’s 80 degrees outside, because back in South Carolina, all it is, is 40 degrees and raining. So, I’m just glad to be in some hot weather. Wind, I can deal with. But I just hit it really good today.”

The tournament is being played opposite the World Golf Championship event in Florida. The winner will get into the PGA Championship in May but not the Masters in April.

Gainey rebounded from a three-putt bogey on the par-3 11th with birdies on the par-4 12th and 13th, par-5 15th, par-4 17th and par-5 18th.

“Hit it 12 feet on No. 11 and then three-whacked it,” Gainey said. “So I’m not happy about that, but really happy at bouncing back with a birdie on 12. Just showing a little resilience and confidence to come back from a bogey, because when you three-putt from 12 feet, come on, let’s be honest, that’s bad.”

He also started fast, birdieing the opening two holes and three of the first four.

Campos closed with a birdie on 18. The 32-year-old Puerto Rican player won a Korn Ferry Tour event in 2019,

“I hit the ball very well, gave myself a lot of great looks,” Campos said. “Wasn’t really aggressive today, which I think that was a key, just kind of tried to play my way around the course.”

The event is being played without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s weird not seeing the fans out here,” Campos said. “I miss them.”

European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington shot 70. Ian Poulter, the top-ranked player in the field at 59th, opened with a 71.

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