NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — The Hero World Challenge has all the trappings of a working vacation on a Caribbean island with a 20-man field, no cut and warm tropical air in December. It just doesn’t feel that way to Collin Morikawa.
A historic year for the 24-year-old Californian can still get better.
At stake for Morikawa this week at Albany Golf Club is a chance to reach No. 1 in the world in only his 61st tournament worldwide as a pro. That would be the second-quickest ascent to the top of the world in golf behind Tiger Woods (21 starts).
None of this seems to faze Morikawa, not after a year in which he won his first World Golf Championship, his second major at the British Open and became the first American to be No. 1 on the European Tour when he won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai two weeks ago.
And to think it was just over 18 months ago that he picked up his business degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
“I wouldn’t call it surprised,” Morikawa said after a pro-am round that included cricket legend Brian Lara. “I set a lot of lofty goals and they’re reasonable goals — they’re not unreasonable — but I set a lot of high goals and that’s just the standard I live up to. It always has been. I just keep pushing myself.”
At the moment, there appears to be no limit for a game already renowned for pure irons and a repeatable swing that rarely gets him too far off course.
U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm chose not to play the holiday event hosted by Woods. According to projections, Morikawa would have to win to reach No. 1, and then the two-year rolling formula would return Rahm back to No. 1 a week later.
Still, just getting there is a big deal. And with this tournament offering world ranking points, this would be as good a chance as any.
Besides, hit-and-giggle is not Morikawa’s style.
“I’m here to win and we’re here to play golf,” he said. “You can look at it as a vacation, but at the end of the day I still want to come out here and play really well. And obviously, over the past month-and-a-half it’s been some pretty good golf. And hopefully, we can just lean on that to finish off this year and head into 2022.”
The field includes Rory McIlroy, who had a chance to win in Dubai until a bad break and frustration that led to bad shots cost him down the stretch.
Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau are playing in the Bahamas, this time 72 holes instead of the 12-hole TV exhibition in Las Vegas. They aren’t paired together and might not even see each other this week if they can help it.
Jordan Spieth plays his first tournament as a father after his wife gave birth to a boy.
Spieth and McIlroy can relate to Morikawa’s rapid rise. McIlroy was 21 when he nearly won the Masters, set the U.S. Open scoring record a year later and then added the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island for two majors at age 23.
Spieth nearly won the Masters at age 20 in 2014, his first full year as a PGA Tour member. The following year, he won the Masters and U.S. Open, was one shot out of a playoff in the British Open and was runner-up in the PGA.
The challenge can be sustaining great play. McIlroy has gone through his share of rough patches, along with injury. Spieth went more than three years without winning and nearly fell out of the top 100 before he got back on track.
“It’s just about resetting your goals, just trying to keep improving as a player, try to not let complacency creep in at any point,” McIlroy said. “I think at times when you get successful and you maybe enjoy a little bit of that success, that complacency can creep in.”
The biggest knock on Morikawa, aside from occasional putting lapses, is that his best game has been absent during the PGA Tour postseason each of the last two years. That’s more about the fickle nature of golf than any complacency.
He said he doesn’t wait until the end of the year to raise the bar. That could be after a tournament (usually a win), but the target is always moving, always within reasonable reach.
“If I had set the bar of saying at 20 years old I wanted to win two majors by the time I finished my career, I’d be complacent, right? I’d just be OK with myself,” he said. “But I’m not. I want to keep winning. I want to keep beating these guys out here.”
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