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Collin Morikawa honing in on world No. 1 by taking commanding 54-hole Hero World lead

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Published in Golf
Saturday, 04 December 2021 09:54

NASSAU, Bahamas - Collin Morikawa chipped in for eagle and raced away from a 20-man field Saturday in the Hero World Challenge with an 8-under 64, building a five-shot lead and leaving him one round away from reaching No. 1 in the world.

Morikawa would stay at the top of the ranking for only a week based on the two-year rolling formula. Even so, only 24 other players have reached No. 1 since the ranking began in 1986.

The guy who has stayed No. 1 the longest — Tiger Woods — watched much of it unfold from the broadcast booth and he saw a command performance.

Morikawa had the first bogey-free round of the week at Albany Golf Club, only once coming close to a bogey on the back nine as his pursuers couldn't keep up.

Brooks Koepka fell back with a double-bogey on the par-3 eighth hole and had two birdies the rest of the way. On this day, that allowed him to post a 69 and move into the final group.

“Just keep doing what I’m doing, play good and hope for the best,” Koepka said.

Morikawa was at 18-under 198 as he tries to win his second straight start. He is coming off a Sunday rally in Dubai to win the DP World Tour Championship, making him the first American to be the No. 1 player on the European Tour.

Not long after Morikawa finished the opening hole in the final group, a dozen or so spectators lingered behind and headed to the back of Albany's practice range to watch someone who is not part of the 20-man field: Woods.

He spent another day hitting balls, this time with a driver, fueling speculation that 10 months after his car crash that badly damaged his right leg, he might tee it up in two weeks at the PNC Championship with 12-year-old son Charlie.

Tournament organizers are holding a spot in the field for him.

Woods wasn't quite ready to commit to that, and a return to the PGA Tour remained just as uncertain as when he spoke to the media earlier in the week.

“I can hit it,” he said in the NBC booth during the tournament. “It just doesn't go very far.” Leaning on another joke, he said he's not hitting it so short that “I can hear it land.”

But he said he has a lot of work to do on his health, and playing against the best in golf remained a long way off.

What he saw on the course from Morikawa must have looked familiar, not so much the power but the precision and methodical way the 24-year-old Californian carved up Albany.

Also familiar was how the rest of the contenders peeled away.

Bryson DeChambeau started the third round with a one-shot lead and that was gone quickly. He hit a spectator at the back of the green, a good break for him when it caromed back and rolled off a slope onto the putting surface about 15 feet. And then he three-putted for bogey.

He shot 73 and now is eight shots behind.

Sam Burns made a big run with an eagle on the par-5 11th followed by four straight birdies to get within two shots of Morikawa. But he took bogey on the par-3 17th and finished his round with a double bogey for a 68 that left him six behind.

Daniel Berger recovered from a lost ball and double bogey on the par-5 third hole by making two eagles, only to drop two shots on the last three holes, including a tee shot in the water hazard on the 18th. He had a 69, also six behind.

They were joined in a tie for third with Viktor Hovland and Patrick Reed, who each had 67, and Tony Finau, who bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 70.

Rory McIlroy, who began the holiday event with a share of the lead, never had a chance to get into contention after taking a quadruple-bogey 9 on the 11th hole. He had a 75.

The only other round over par belonged to Jordan Spieth, playing for the first time since becoming a father. His ball moved on the 18th green and he forgot to replace it, leading to a two-shot penalty and a 75.

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