“I wish I could go play another 18,” he chirped.
The 61 shooter begins to believe all things possible.
When Morikawa reported to East Lake Golf Club this week he was assigned a room in steerage, being 24th in FedEx Cup points among the 30 survivors and starting this staggered scoring event nine shots back of points leader Scottie Scheffler. His goal at that time was just try to go lower than anyone else here in raw score during the week and be happy with wherever that might land him among the also-rans.
Ah, hear him now, having made up ground by the acre Thursday: “That was the (modest) goal at the beginning of the week, but obviously where I sit now, it’s to keep pushing and not let my foot off the gas.”
The 61 shooter just might think his whole golfing life is ready to pivot, putting him back on the course of one of the game’s bright young stars after a couple seasons in the weeds.
“I want to win this tournament. I really do. It’s been too long. I want to find a way to win. Today definitely helped that,” Morikawa said after putting up his lowest score in relation to par – 9 under – since early 2022.
Morikawa’s 61 was just one stroke off Zach Johnson’s 2007 course record 60, and in just the first day of the Tour Championship he rose suddenly from the depths of the points-weighted scoreboard to share the first-round lead at 10 under with Keegan Bradley and Viktor Hovland. So abrupt was his ascent, Morikawa beat his bubbles to the surface and may be the first golfer to ever come down with a case of the bends.
Scheffler was the points leader, too, last season, and spit out his advantage with a Sunday 73. He got to the task much quicker this year, shooting a 1 over 71 on a Thursday when a windless East Lake was yielding a 68.16 scoring average to the field.
About the time Scheffler plopped his tee shot into the middle of the pond guarding the par 3 15th, then three-putted from 16 feet for triple bogey, it was time to just forget about the whole staggered scoring format here. The world’s No. 1 player was just another sweating body in the mosh pit now. He’s 9 under, looking up at three others and looking back on a whole host of predators who spotted his limp, and pounced.
Co-leader Hovland chose the quiet, unassuming route to the top, stringing together 16 pars, sprinkling in two birdies and sneaking off with a 68.
Co-leader Bradley hasn’t been back to this event since the switch to the new scoring format seemed most surprised with his day. “It’s strange,” he said. “I looked up at the leaderboard at one point today and I thought they had my score wrong. I started at 3 under and I think I was 3 under for the day, and I was like, that (6 under) is not right. And then I realized it’s my first time playing this format.” But you shoot a bogey-free 63, good things are supposed to happen, whatever the format.
Morikawa did not make his big, bold move alone. Playing partner Adam Schenk, a PGA Tour non-winner, happily joined the big Scheffler fox hunt, putting together his own 63. He’s 8 under for the tournament, just two off the lead.The Morikawa-Schenk twosome was a combined 16 under for the day, making it the most productive duo since Lennon and McCartney.
“When you’re able to feed off a partner, you’re seeing putts go in, you’re seeing great shots, there’s a rhythm to it,” Morikawa said. “We played nice and quick today, we just kept going. It was just really, really easy I think for both of us.”
Heat, what heat?
Not that Morikawa much noticed, but on the Lucas Glover Sweat Stain scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being a light spritzing, 10 being all day in a carnival dunking booth – Thursday was a solid 7.5. And it’s going to get hotter.
Could Morikawa really have turned right around and played 18 more Thursday? “The way I played today, sure, why not?” he smiled. “It wouldn’t count, probably, so I won’t.”
It was a refreshed and rebooted Morikawa leaving the course Thursday. And why not? He’s had a decent year as far as unfathomable stats go, ranking 11th in strokes gained, but hasn’t had a win since his 2021 British Open victory.
For a 61 shooter, there is reason to believe again.
“There’s a skill that you just can’t measure for winning,” Morikawa said. “I think you ask the best winners in history – you can’t tell someone how to win, you can’t teach someone how to win. You got to learn how to win.
“It’s still in there. I know it is. It’s just having things go your way and being consistent like today, not giving away shots, not hitting the poor shot that might deter a round, not making a bogey or two here today.”
There’s a whole slew of players thinking about winning again after Scheffler threw his Thursday into reverse.