Morikawa builds 2-shot lead going to weekend at Kapalua

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Collin Morikawa plays his shot from the 13th tee during the second round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Matt York)

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Winless last year for the first time in his young career, Collin Morikawa is playing as though he wants to put that behind him quickly.

Morikawa was dialed in with his irons early and took advantage of some of the scoring holes late in his second round Friday for a 7-under 66 that gave him a two-shot lead in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

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He was at 16-under 130 and without a bogey over two rounds on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

“With conditions where it's windy and pins are kind of in sports where you've got to be really precise with your distance control and trajectory, it's tailor-made for him,” said J.J. Spaun, who played with Morikawa and posted a 68 to fall two behind.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler had a good laugh on the first tee with U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and then ran off nine birdies in his round of 66, leaving him two shots behind along with Spaun, a newcomer to Kapalua.

Scheffler can return to No. 1 in the world this week with a two-way tie for third at better, with Rory McIlroy choosing to sit out this week.

Jordan Spieth had two eagles — one a 7-iron that came inches away from an albatross on the par-5 fifth hole — and had a 66. He was three shots behind.

Morikawa ordinarily wouldn't be at Kapalua for the winners-only start to the year. But in this new year of trying to bring together the top plays more often, the PGA Tour expanded the field from exclusively winners in 2022 to include those who reached the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake.

Morikawa shared the 18-hole lead by running off six straight birdies to start the back nine. On a gorgeous Friday afternoon on Maui with a little more wind, he did most of his damage early. It started with a 20-foot birdie putt on the opening hole, followed by short irons to 3 feet and 8 feet.

From there, everyone else did well to keep pace.

Scheffler was introduced on the first tee with a mention of all four of his wins last year, from the WM Phoenix Open to the Masters. Next up was Fitzpatrick, who beat Scheffler by one shot at Brookline. He was introduced as the U.S. Open champion.

“There's one you didn't win,” Fitzpatrick said as they laughed.

Scoring remained low enough that only two players were over par — Billy Horschel (71) and Chad Ramey (76) were 2 over.

Morikawa had a chance to tie the 36-hole scoring record that Cameron Smith set last year at 17-under 129. He was just off the front of the 18th green when he muffed his chip and saw it run out to only 30 feet, and his long birdie putt banged off the lip.

Those are mistakes that happen and he can live with that. He's more interested in a bigger picture of moving forward from what felt like the first real struggle he's had in golf since longer than he can remember.

Morikawa graduated from Cal and had a PGA Tour victory within two months. After his first two full years on the tour, he already had two majors. A year ago, he had a chance to reach No. 1 in the world.

He had only one top 10 in his final eight tournaments last year. More than anything wrong with his swing, or his putting, Morikawa attributed it to a poor attitude forged from the frustration of knowing he wasn't playing to his abilities.

“It was tough, but it's golf and I’ve kind of learned from it,” Morikawa said. "You just realize look, it’s going to happen. You just dig yourself out of it and learn and get better from it. And if I didn’t get better from it and I didn’t push myself to work a little harder and motivate myself in certain ways to know where I want to be and set my goals, then there’s no reason to be frustrated.

“But it was frustrating because I know where I want to be.”

For now, he is in the lead by two shots, his first time with at least a share of the 36-hole lead since the U.S. Open last summer. He wound up in a tie for fifth at Brookline.

Missing from Kapalua is Xander Schauffele, the No. 6 player in the world who withdraw after eight holes because of an ailing back. Schauffele said he was headed home to Las Vegas to figure out what's going on.


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