Morikawa was the second-round co-leader after a 6 under 64 on Friday. That gave him a total of 16 under, good for a tie with Hovland.
The 36-hole scoring record at the FedEx Cup playoff finale now belonged to Morikawa. His total of 61-64-125 was two strokes better than Tiger Woods mark of 127 set in 2007. He went through two rounds without a blemish on his card, no bogeys.
Morikawa, who started the playoffs No. 24 (1 under), was in good position to win the tournament and the playoff title. He and Hovland had it right in front of them.
Seventeen times the 36-hole leader went on to win the Tour Championship. Twice in the four years since the staggered scoring format began in 2019, the second-round leader went on to win the title.
The grip on the title is now Hovland’s alone. He shot a 4 under 66 on Saturday. He stands at 20 under, six strokes ahead of Xander Schauffele.
Morikawa shot a 3 over 73 in the third round. He stands at 13 under, seven strokes behind Hovland, and tied for third with Bradley.
“It’s not going to end at 16-under,” Morikawa said after his second round Friday. “There’s going to be a lot more low scores, a lot more birdies made. I’m going to have to continue that heading into the next two days.”
Hovland made the birdies – five in all (with a bogey). He nearly made several others. Morikawa did not – just one.
The first blemish to Morikawa’s day was a big one. He took a double-bogey at the par-4 5th hole. After his third shot ended up behind a green-side bunker, he pitched into the sand. After getting onto the green, he needed two putts to close the hole.
Morikawa bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes. By that point, he was five strokes behind Hovland and was in fourth place.
Perhaps a 77-minute weather delay helped. Morikawa parred the next four holes. He birdied the 16th, and that was welcome news. However, Hovland continued to run away with the tournament and held a seven-stroke lead over Morikawa at that point. Morikawa parred the final two holes to finish the disappointing round.
The deficit is not insurmountable. Rory McIlroy came back from six strokes in the final round to win the FedEx Cup last year. However, the way Hovland is playing it will be a tough assignment.
“Putting it all together, I don’t think I’ve ever played this well before,” Hovland said.