NASSAU – This holiday event in the Bahamas is taking on a little more meaning for Bryson DeChambeau seeking a small measure of revenge and for Collin Morikawa pursuing a more noble goal of reaching No. 1 in the world.
One week after getting whipped by Brooks Koepka in Las Vegas at their made-for-TV match, DeChambeau made five birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn at Albany and overcame a late double bogey from a wild drive for an 8-under 64. That was good for a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the Hero World Challenge.
The group one shot behind included Koepka, of course, who made a 12-foot par putt on the final hole for a second straight 67.
They won't be in the final group on Saturday, though DeChambeau would appear to relish that chance. “That would be sweet,” he said to Golf Channel.
Koepka shrugged and said, “I already proved everything.”
Morikawa, newly engaged and not one for petty battles, made a strong move on the back nine with a birdie-birdie-eagle sequence until falling victim to the tough 18th, playing into a strong breeze. His bogey led to a 66, but he was right where he needed to be.
“Just got to use that momentum for tomorrow,” he said.
A victory against this 20-man field is the only way Morikawa can reach No. 1 in the world, and only then for a week before Jon Rahm — not playing this week — is projected to return to the top based on the two-year rolling formula.
Not to be overlooked is Tony Finau, who seems to be in the mix most weeks. He made one of only two birdies on the 18th, rolling in a 15-foot putt for a 66 to finish one shot back.
Daniel Berger also made birdie on the 18th and was two shots behind.
DeChambeau's one big miss on the 16th led to a double bogey, and he answered with a tee shot to 3 feet on the par-3 17th to keep ahead. He was at 11-under 133.
DeChambeau, who spoke on a 30-minute conference call last week when trying to promote his TV match with Koepka, returned to his practice of only giving interviews to the network covering the tournament.
His big run started with a birdie on the par-5 sixth, and the only hole he didn't birdie over the next hour was the par-3 12th. He nearly drove the green on the reachable par-4 14th and caught a break when it was rolling off the steep slope and went into a sprinkler hole, slowing the ball's momentum and leaving him a simple up-and-down.
He wound up with the low score of the tournament, and Sam Burns wasn't too far behind with a 65 that got him into the mix at 8-under 136, along with Tyrrell Hatton (67).
Rory McIlroy couldn't keep up. He was in range of the leaders until a double bogey on the 14th. He bounced back with a pair of birdies, only to drop a shot on the 18th for a 71. McIlroy, going for his second win in his last three starts, was four back along with Viktor Hovland (69) and Patrick Reed (69).
Reed and McIlroy will play together. Their most famous pairing was the Ryder Cup singles match at Hazeltine that Reed won, and the more significant pairing was two years later in the final round of the Masters, which Reed also won.
Morikawa and DeChambeau present a sharp contrast in their games and personalities. DeChambeau is all about bulk and speed and power. Morikawa is more about a consistent strike, particularly with his irons. In an era of power, the two-time major champion is used to seeing the long ball without getting overly concerned.
“There hasn’t been one style of golf that has won every tournament out here, right?” Morikawa said. “Look, Bryson’s changing the game and he’s doing what he thinks is going to help and I’m doing what I think is going to help. I think when it comes down to it, who’s going to put the ball in the hole with the least amount of strokes? And we’re all trying to figure that out.”
Koepka is making strides in that department.
The four-time major champion was sidelined again by a knee surgery just before the Masters, and not long after winning the Phoenix Open. He missed consecutive cuts in the fall before his win over DeChambeau in a 12-hole match (that lasted only nine holes). And while this is an unofficial event, Koepka at least is starting to see results.
“The last two months it's been constant grinding,” he said. “But every day, I'm finding something. I'm super pumped.”
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