KAPALUA, Hawaii – Collin Morikawa isn’t a surfer, but he’s riding a wave to the top of the leaderboard at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Morikawa made an eagle and six birdies to shoot 8-under 65 at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course to open up a six-stroke lead heading into the final round over major winners Matt Fitzpatrick, Scottie Scheffler and Valero Texas Open winner J.J. Spaun.
“It’s been pretty simple today. Kind of over the past three days, is where I’ve been looking is kind of where the ball’s been going,” Morikawa said.
Morikawa is the only player in the field without a bogey through 54 holes. Just after Scheffler made an eagle to temporarily tie him, Morikawa holed an 11-foot eagle putt at the fifth and followed it up with a birdie at six (and a Scheffler bogey at the same hole) to reclaim control of the tournament.
Morikawa’s putter remained red hot – he’s leading the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (+6.778).
“I keep waiting for him to miss one of these,” said PGA Tour Radio’s Mark Wilson after Morikawa drained an 8-foot par putt at 10. “He’s like a robot out there.”
Morikawa’s six-shot lead equals the largest 54-hole lead of the season (Russell Henley/World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba) and matches the largest at the event since 1999. But Morikawa, who is seeking his first Tour victory since the 2021 British Open and sixth career Tour title knows it won’t be easy. He blew a five-stroke lead at the Hero World Challenge in December 2021, which would have lifted him to world No. 1.
“Last year felt so long. That kind of 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. It doesn’t mean — when you’re playing well you’re still searching for something. But it’s felt like a while, especially since you see kind of my peers and friends get up to the top and, yeah, tomorrow’s a big one.”
Entering the week, Rory McIlroy held the title of No. 1 in the world, but he might no longer be able to say so on Monday if Scottie Scheffler has anything to say about it.
Scheffler posted 4-under 69 on Saturday, his seventh consecutive under-par round at the event, and will enter the final round in a three-way tied for second at 18-under 201, six shots off the pace. If Scheffler finishes tied for third with one other player, or better, he would return to world No. 1, which he held for 30 weeks in 2022.
Scheffler struggled with his putting on Saturday, losing 1.391 strokes to the field on the greens, and headed straight to the practice-putting green, where he spent an hour going through a series of drills. The grind never ends – especially if you want to be world No. 1.
You wouldn’t know it from his pasty-white complexion, but Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick said he has been enjoying the beach with his girlfriend this week on his first visit to Maui. They played a couple of rounds together at Kapalua before the tournament got underway to get his feet wet but otherwise spent the afternoon at the beach. Asked if he considers himself to be a beach guy, Fitzpatrick said, “Yeah, I would say so. As long as it’s not too windy.”
Fitzpatrick also likes the change he made to his irons, adding eight grams to the tips of his grips to create a fade bias.
“Felt a little bit more comfortable out there,” he said. “I actually spoke to Mr. Nicklaus about it because someone told me he did it. I asked him and, yeah, we sort of had a quick chat about it on why he did it and stuff.”
Fitzpatrick reeled off five birdies in his final seven holes to shoot 7-under 66. He’s tied for second, six back as he chases his second Tour title.
Max Homa had a good feeling about Saturday’s third round as soon as he got notified that he was paired with his good friend, caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay. At least that’s how Homa put it in a tweet, a playful jab at Justin Thomas. “We had a good vibe,” Homa said of the pairing.
— max homa (@maxhoma23) January 7, 2023
What did he and Thomas talk about during the third round at Kapalau?
“I can never share those,” Homa said. “But I did tell him he sounded really cool walking with his spikes from 17 to 18 on the concrete. He said he might wear ’em to the pool today.”
Homa wore out the standard bearer who kept having to update Homa’s score as he poured in 10 birdies to shoot 10-under 63.
“Ten under is way cooler than 63,” he said. “Double digits under par is a cool feeling.”
Homa’s game has improved each day as he knocked off the rust from a layoff that included plenty of diaper changing.
“Yesterday I was absolutely grooving, hadn’t missed a shot and then I kind of half topped one on nine trying to hit a low one and made double,” he said. “(Today) on 9, I kind of drop kicked my pitch and got it up and down for par. That was a big moment for me.”
The other difference? Figuring out the speed of the slopey greens at the Plantation Course. Homa made just 37 feet of putts on Thursday and ranked third-to-last in Strokes Gained: Putting among the field of 39 and improved to 112 feet on Saturday. His longest putt made in the first round was 10 feet but he drained a 30 footer on Friday and canned a 45-foot putt on Saturday at No. 13.
Hideki Matsuyama was stuck in neutral for most of Saturday’s third round – two lost shots from early bogeys at Nos. 3 and 4 were recovered by birdies at Nos. 5 and 6 but then all pars through 12. Matsuyama came alive and recorded six straight birdies to close his third round and shoot 6-under 67.
The string of six straight birdies for Matsuyama marked his longest birdies streak on Tour. He will defend his title next week at the Sony Hawaiian Open.