Harbour Town Golf Links has brought out the best in 47-year-old Stewart Cink this week, leaving everyone chasing the two-time RBC Heritage champion. But rising star Collin Morikawa is lurking, and he hasn’t even given Pete Dye’s masterpiece his best shot yet, so it could be a special weekend for the former Cal Bear.
Morikawa played a solid second round Friday at Harbour Town, carding a respectable 3-under 68 to put him in a tie for fourth heading into the weekend, but he has to feel he has left a few shots out on Harbour Town Golf Links the first two days.
The reigning PGA champion struck the ball with confidence throughout Friday’s second round, hitting 14 greens, but the greens themselves simply had the 24-year-old scratching his head in disbelief and confusion.
“You know, just about a foot short on all my putts,” Morikawa said. “If I hit it with a little more pace I could have had a few more birdies out there.”
Morikawa’s self-analysis of his putting was spot-on, he simply could not get the pace of the greens dialed in during the breezy and chilly Friday morning round. While he gained an eye-popping 3.08 shots with his approach game, Morikawa lost 1.668 strokes on the green to the rest of the field during the second round after gaining an impressive 2.416 strokes on the green in Thursday’s opening round.
Morikawa’s round was encapsulated on the par-5 2nd hole. One of only six fairways he has missed this week, Morikawa found himself off the right side of the fairway and 180 yards away from the green, his ball resting in the white hardpan waste bunker blocked out by trees and scrubby palms creating a daunting scene to the onlookers.
See, the 500-yard second hole is one the best players in the world come to licking their chops at an eagle opportunity. On Friday, the hole played to a 4.4 stroke average, over a half below par. Simply put, if you par No. 2, you are losing shots to the field.
As Morikawa gripped his club and nestled his spikes into the white sand, he aimed 30 yards left of the green, causing many spectators to presume he was taking his proverbial medicine, laying up and leaving himself a straight forward chip from off the green. The spectators’ predictions, however, were as accurate as the 70-degree forecasts from the local meteorologists for Friday’s round.
The third-year pro decked out in a gray hoodie calmly hit a low, left-to-right bullet with a swing that looked like he was hitting a 15-yard backyard chip. The ball bounded up the front of the green, resting 45 feet away from the hole and giving Morikawa an eagle opportunity after being in a subtropical jail cell. Unfortunately, after Morikawa’s respectable eagle putt attempt, he missed the 4-foot birdie attempt, leading to a three-putt par and a slow, head-shaking walk to the third tee box.
That was the story of the day for the rising superstar. Spectacular iron shots that inspired “you gotta be kidding me” exclamations from the 18-handicap golf fans in the gallery, followed by putts coming up dreadfully short of their promising goal.
The California native has tinkered with his putting stroke over the past few months in hopes of improving the only tarnished area of his phenomenal game. He currently ranks 179th on the PGA Tour in Shots Gained Putting and 202nd for putts inside 10 feet. These types of stats inspired tweaking and he is currently utilizing the “saw grip” he learned from former Masters champion Mark O’Meara.
Morikawa knows a tight, small target course like this Pete Dye classic fits his game to a tee. “When you show up to a course like this that has smaller greens, yes, it gives you a little boost of confidence knowing that you can get a little advantage on some other guys,” Morikawa said. “But you’ve still got to make the putts. They were rolling in yesterday; didn’t get as many today.” Now that Calibogue Sound has become the fountain of youth for the 47-year-old Cink, who is leading the tournament after setting a sizzling 36-hole record 16-under par, Morikawa must find the speed of the greens Saturday afternoon if he hopes to put on the tartan jacket on Sunday.
It is always impressive to trek around Harbour Town bogey-free, but Saturday is known as “moving day,” and Morikawa will need to put his foot on the gas pedal to have a chance with Cink and Corey Conners playing out-of-this-world.
That said, with his elite ball-striking talents, if the four-time PGA Tour winner’s putter blade warms up, he is one of the few on tour who can erase an intimidating seven-shot deficit over the course of a weekend.
By Brian Rietveld