What transpired on a sunny Sunday afternoon at idyllic Kapalua looked like something straight out of golf’s version of The Twilight Zone.
Collin Morikawa seemingly had one arm wrapped around the trophy at the Tournament of Champions but a heart-breaking meltdown over the final nine holes opened the door for Jon Rahm to capture the first PGA Tour event of 2023.
Morikawa looked simply flawless for the first three days at the Plantation Course. He wasn’t just good — he totally dominated the rest of the field. He was bogey-free and 24-under par, hitting quality shot after quality shot and making virtually every putt he needed.
Things continued on a good path as he opened his final round with a birdie that increased his overnight lead from six to seven shots and after Jon Rahm’s first-hole bogey, Morikawa was a whopping nine shots clear of Rahm with 17 holes to play.
Morikawa turned three-under — 27-under and with so many birdie holes over the final nine — well, it looked like that 2022 winless streak would end in a couple of hours.
But there were some early indicators that the damn was leaking for the two-time major champion but little did anyone foresee the start of a Huge Hawaiian Horror Show. He missed a three-footer for birdie at the fifth hole and three-putted for par at the par five ninth. One group ahead, Rahm rallied from that opening bogey with five front-nine birdies — the Spaniard was just beginning an improbable run.
Morikawa found himself stuck in neutral as he began that final march. He missed a birdie from 11 feet at the 11th hole then another from the same distance at 13 — four straight pars.
Rahm’s run started with birdies at 12, 13 and 14. The Monumental Morikawa Meltdown started with his first bogey of the tournament at 14, ending 67 holes without one. But that was just the start of the horror show.
At the easy par five 15th, Rahm was eye-balling an eagle putt from just outside 11 feet. He ran that in. Behind him, Morikawa thinned a bunker shot that sailed over the green and led to the first of three straight bogeys. It was a horrific Deja Vu all over again for Morikawa, who blew a five-shot lead on the final day at the 2021 Hero World Challenge. Rahm ran that eagle putt in the hole and suddenly it was a tie ball game at 26-under. Rahm was nine-under for his round.
Morikawa’s short game went south on him and that led to two more bogeys — the Terrible Triplicate and NBC analyst Paul Azinger declared: “I’m sure he’s in a panic.”
A pair of pars and a birdie to close added up to a 10-under par 63 for Rahm. All he had to do was wait for Morikawa to limp/crawl to the finish line. He did. Morikawa did manage a birdie at the 18th but the ship went down — he became the ninth player to blow a six-shot lead.
Give Morikawa credit, with a larger gathering of family and friends watching his collapse, he still talked about it.
“Sadness” was the first word he spoke as he tried to smile. “I don’t know. It sucks. You work so hard, and you give yourself these opportunities, and just bad timing on bad shots and kind of added up really quickly. Don’t know what I’m going to learn from this week, but it just didn’t seem like it was that far off. It really wasn’t. Yeah, it sucks.”
Morikawa reminded himself that Jon Rahm — “still shot 63, but I still, you know, I still had it within reach,” Morikawa said. “If I don’t make those bogeys and I make par, we’re right there. So, he definitely made the birdies when he needed to, but I also made bogeys. When you’re getting bogeys at that time of the tournament, they’re costly. I definitely felt the weight of that.”
“Can’t really think of anything else,” he said softly. “Yeah, it’s hard to look at the positives, it really is.”
For Rahm it was a huge triumph after losing this event last year by a shot to Cam Smith and Rahm almost didn’t know what to say when asked if he felt a bit bad for Morikawa.
“I don’t know how to answer that without sounding very rude,” Rahm responded. “As competitors, no, I want to win. That’s all I can tell you. I’ve been where he’s been before. I’ve made a mess of a round before. You don’t want to see that happen really ever. You want to beat everybody at their best.
“But if the best Collin had shown up today, I wouldn’t have won.”