Southern Californian upstarts Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa tied for lead and registering on the Richter Scale
BLAINE, Minn. — Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa grew up 40 minutes apart in Southern California, Wolff in Simi Valley and Morikawa in Los Angeles. When earthquakes struck just north of L.A. on Friday and Saturday, they made hurried calls home to make sure family was all right.
On Saturday, the two rookie professionals shook up the 3M Open. The kids weren’t just all right at TPC Twin Cities. They were superb. And they are tied for the lead with 18 holes remaining and will be in Sunday’s final pairing at 1 p.m. CDT.
Wolff, who as a sophomore at Oklahoma State recently won the Jack Nicklaus Award as Division I Player of the Year, after capturing the NCAA individual title, flirted with a 59 briefly on Saturday before settling for a nine-under 62, tied for low round of the tournament. About 90 minutes later, Morikawa, an All-American for Cal, posted 64. They are tied with Bryson DeChambeau, the No. 8 player in the world, at 15-under 198.
Not bad for their fourth pro starts.
Just one week after another fresh rookie, Viktor Hovland, shot a final-round eight-under 64 to finish T-13 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Morikawa and Wolff have a fantastic opportunity before them. If one of them wins, he immediately becomes exempt on the PGA Tour. But each also could earn special temporary membership without winning. Morikawa, who was T-14 in his pro debut at the RBC Canadian Open, can do it with a four-way tie for second or solo third. Wolff needs second place outright.
It won’t be easy. Just three shots separate the top 14 on the leader board in this inaugural event.
“It’s pretty amazing that we are giving ourselves some chances early,” said Wolff, 20, who on Saturday played alongside 60-year-old Tom Lehman, the man charged with renovating and toughening TPC Twin Cities for this event. “I saw some of the success of the other guys, and it kind of fired me up to want to get up there, too.”
He got up there by going low thanks to six straight birdies in the middle of the round. His only hiccup was a bogey at the par-3 17th after he misjudged the wind. That came on the heels of missing a four-footer for birdie that could have taken him to 10 under. Still, the 62 was his lowest competitive round ever, and it was the second-lowest score in relation to par on the PGA Tour by a player younger than 21 years old since 1983. Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy hold the record at 10 under.
“It became the Matthew Wolff show,” said Lehman, who was awed by Wolff’s power, his precision with his irons and his unique swing. “I kind of got sucked into watching him play, and boy, what a round he played. He hit so many amazing iron shots. He nearly jarred it three or four times.
“The way he swings it, there's almost no face rotation through the ball. His swing is in some ways a gift to him because he's a straight-ball hitter.”
During his birdie string, Wolff had putts of four feet at the fifth and then four, six, four and eight feet, respectively on holes seven through 10. He two-putted for birdie at the par-5 sixth.
“I would say when I birdied 10 to get to seven under, I was kind of thinking of 59, but I knew I had to stay in the moment,” Wolff said. “So, 62 obviously, on a PGA Tour course, is a heck of a score whoever shoots it, but I’m glad I got it going.”
Off to a slow start, Wolff said he has been playing “too strategically” and decided to free up his thinking and be aggressive. “I just needed to be me,” he said. “At the end of the day, I belong out here, and I don't need to change anything in my game to play with the guys out here. I think that's what I struggled with the first couple weeks, I was always trying to look for that little extra something instead of being myself.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Morikawa, 22, has a similar mindset.
“Yeah, I mean, it is golf out here. It's on a lot bigger stage, but our games played very well throughout the spring. We're going to have to control our nerves, remember who we are, what brought us out here,” he said.
“For me, it's just building a routine, building my routine that's going to work every single day,” he added. “You kind of tweak one thing or another, but for the most part you come out here, stick to what you've been doing in college and junior golf and that's what you've been working for. Not to come out here and change everything, but to do what you're doing.”
Wolff, Morikawa, Hovland and Justin Suh, an All-American at USC, all turned professional following the NCAA Championship. Suh made his first cut as a pro this week and also made Saturday’s secondary cut despite a triple bogey on the par-5 home hole.
Hovland was hardly surprised by what his Oklahoma State teammate, Wolff, was doing or that Morikawa was right there next to him on the leader board. Morikawa has some experience already contending in a pro event; as a 19-year-old, he shot a pair of weekend 63s in the 2016 Air Capital Classic on what was then the Web.com Tour (now Korn Ferry) before losing to Ollie Schneiderjans in a three-man playoff.
“We’re all just taking it day by day, but at least we’re all showing something, that we are pretty good,” said Hovland, who won the 2018 U.S. Amateur and also was named an All-American this year. “It’s fun to see all of us out here together. Obviously, Matt had a heck of a season and Collin is really good. You shoot good scores, whatever the level of competition, and that takes care of itself.”
Wolff has suffered just two bogeys in his last 36 holes, while Morikawa has had three. They have combined for 30 birdies in that stretch. Wolff has converted 21 birdies overall, tied with Adam Hadwin for best in the field. Good golf, indeed.
The two youngsters have competed against each other in junior golf, in high school, in college and in national amateur events. Now they square off on the PGA Tour. Two sponsor's exemptions in the final pairing. When has that ever happened before? No one could remember.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” Morikawa said. “Who knows where this is going to take us, but we're just trying to make the most out of it this summer. I mean, this is awesome to be out here, this is what we've always wanted, and to be in this position, it's going to be exciting tomorrow.”
Yes, it will. Just shaking things up.