BRADENTON, Fla. – PGA champion Collin Morikawa went from feeling he could do no wrong to wondering if he could do anything right, and that was just over the final hour Saturday in the Workday Championship.
What mattered at the end of the third round was he had a two-shot lead as he goes for his first World Golf Championship title, even knowing it could have been a lot bigger.
Morikawa walked off the 12th hole with his seventh birdie in eight holes, stretching his lead to five shots with two par 5s still to play. He made bogey on both, shot a 5-under 67 and suddenly had four-time major champion Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel on his tail.
“I didn’t play great the last six, but a lot to learn from heading into tomorrow,” Morikawa said. “Just to kind of clear my head to get ready for the 18-hole grind tomorrow.”
Koepka, who says his neck has been stiff for the last month, got his mistakes out of the way early by opening with a pair of bogeys and rallied late for a 70. Horschel also had a late rally with an eagle on the par-5 17th hole and shot 69.
Another shot back was Webb Simpson (69).
Rory McIlroy, who made a double bogey for the second straight day, was hopeful of getting to 10 under to at least give himself a chance. He did one better with a 66, including an eagle on the par-5 13th that gave so many players fits, and wound up just four shots behind.
“It seems like it’s one of these courses where it can give up a lot of birdies and some eagles and stuff, but it can bite you very quickly without really doing much wrong,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, it's one of these places where you just have to stay patient and know that you’re going to have chances.”
Morikawa was at 15-under 201.
His troubles began on the par-13th, and it looked harmless enough when he put his approach from the rough into the bunker and blasted out to just under 25 feet for look at yet another birdie. Except that he left his putt 6 feet short, and missed the next one to take bogey.
“I never got it going again,” Morikawa said.
He also made bogey on the par-5 17th, the easiest hole at Concession on Saturday, by finding a bunker off the tee, having to lay up short of the water, and then hitting into another bunker.
Morikawa found plenty of positives. He still had a two-shot lead. His putting stroke feels better than ever, and a chipping tip from Concession member Paul Azinger has left him confident on the short-game shots off the Bermuda grass.
Koepka is thankful he still has a chance.
Staked to a one-shot lead at the start of the third round, he opened with two straight bogeys, answered with a two-putt birdie on the third but then followed with eight straight pars and found himself seven shots behind. He had three birdies over the last seven holes.
Webb Simpson had a 69 and was three shots behind, followed by McIlroy and Patrick Reed (69).
“It’s definitely a course that no lead is big enough to kind of be safe because anything can happen,” Reed said.
Also in the mix was Viktor Hovland, who represents what this course can do. He was 7 under for his round on Friday when he bladed a bunker shot at the wrong time and finished with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the ninth hole.
Hovland put that behind him and had a better day. He holed out a wedge from thick rough 45 yards short of the green for eagle on No. 7, and he chipped in for birdie from 80 feet on the par-3 14th.
Hovland had a 66 and joined the group five shots behind at 206 that included Hideki Matsuyama (68).
Morikawa will be going for his fourth PGA Tour victory with a chance to join the list of 23 players who have won majors and World Golf Championships.
His stretch of birdies began with a 15-footer on No. 5, included a 30-foot birdie on the next hole that rammed into the back of the cup, and the rest of them were putts from 10 feet or close.
“I just kept rolling in birdie after birdie. I didn't really think about it," he said. “Golf was simple.”
And as he looked back over three days, and the amount of calamity that can happen at the Concession, he realized that no lead is safe on this course.
“You hit one bad shot and it could cost you big time,” Horschel said.