Try telling Collin Morikawa that the Hero World Challenge is little more than an end-of-season cash-grab for invited stars of golf. Morikawa is just 18 holes from capping a wonderful year, in which he won his maiden Open championship and the European Tour’s order of merit, by reaching No 1 in the world rankings for the first time.
Morikawa arrived in the Bahamas knowing only victory would take him to this cherished position. He used round three to demonstrate his appetite for the challenge. A 64 afforded the 24-year-old a five-shot lead at 18 under par, with Brooks Koepka leading what for now at least looks a futile charge. Morikawa, who got engaged here earlier in tournament week, is of a mind to end 2021 on yet another high. He is not, however, even close to admitting victory is within his grasp.
“On this course, if there’s not a lot of wind, a lot of guys out here can make a lot of birdies early on,” said Morikawa. “I just have to go out and just play the way I have been and be ready by hole one and play all the way through. Nothing’s going to be a gimme tomorrow.
“I don’t know if ‘comfortable’ is the word, it’s just exciting. You love being in these spots and you don’t get them every week. You wish you did, but when you do, you want to take advantage of them, so hopefully we can take advantage tomorrow.
“I called my coach this morning because yesterday the driver wasn’t working. I figured out a little thing on the range and it still wasn’t working great but I found something on 16, just something that I can use for tomorrow, and everything else feels pretty good from there.” The opposition have been duly warned.
Morikawa’s round was kick-started by an eagle three at the 3rd. Further shots were collected at the 4th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 14th and 15th. It was hard to believe this is his competitive debut at Albany. At the last, where Morikawa appeared in minor trouble, he executed a glorious bunker shot to leave a tap-in for par.
“Five back, so I’ve got to do something,” Koepka admitted. “It’s always nice to be in the last group, but I have still got to play good.” Koepka would be closer to the leader, but for a double bogey at the par three 8th.
Patrick Reed and Viktor Hovland each posted 67 to move to 12 under par. Sam Burns and Daniel Berger are on the same score, the former having produced a painful double bogey of his own at the 18th. Bryson DeChambeau, who led going into day three, mumped and moaned his way to a 73 in Morikawa’s company. DeChambeau suddenly trails by eight. The English duo of Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick are minus nine and minus seven respectively.
Rory McIlroy was chugging along at six under for the tournament when he reached the 11th tee. What happened next will not feature in any McIlroy highlights reel. He carved his tee shot to the right, and a lost ball was the result. Shot three from the tee found the fairway but the Northern Irishman proceeded to pull his fourth into rocky ground.
McIlroy chipped short of the green and subsequently over the putting surface. Add in a third wedge shot and two putts and McIlroy finally returned an unseemly nine. He later signed for a 75, meaning a minus five total. The Christmas break cannot come soon enough for him.
Not so for Tiger Woods. The tournament host, who has been at Albany all week, appeared at the bottom of the practice range on Saturday afternoon where he hit a variety of shots, including with a driver. A relaxed Woods signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans thereafter. Speculation is rising that Woods, who was seriously injured in a car crash in February, could make an unlikely playing comeback alongside his son, Charlie, at this month’s PNC Championship in Orlando.