In the crowd-free rest of the P.G.A. Championship Saturday, Collin Morikawa overheard two kayakers on the lake below the 16th hole of TPC Harding Park, trying to identify golfers on the cliff above them. Eventually, the pair came up with the name of the player who hiked with Morikawa – Adam Scott, the former world number 1 from Australia.
They didn't recognize Morikawa, whose profile is getting a lot higher this weekend.
Morikawa, 23, squared himself off Sunday's final round with a five-under-par 65 on San Francisco's often tricky municipal track. His 54-hole total of seven under left him two strokes on the leader, Dustin Johnson, who also shot a 65.
At sea level and often covered in misty skies, Harding sets the standards of swing speed and trajectory for the best players in the world. For Morikawa, however, it was a kind of comfort zone.
"It helps, I've played here maybe a dozen times," said Morikawa of Harding. "I've played it enough. It helped to show up on Tuesday and already know the course. I knew the layout. I didn't have to sort out the green. It helps, you don't have to worry about learning the tricks. of the trade. ”
Morikawa played college golf at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a first-team All-American three times and took first place in the world's amateur golf rankings. Twenty-one miles from the Berkeley campus, Morikawa is playing in his second major championship as a pro; he participated in the United States Open last year.
His third round on Saturday, anchored by a brilliant series of birdies at Nos. 15, 16 and 17, gave him a major role in Sunday's script.
The contenders list will include other youngsters, such as Cameron Champ, 25, another Californian native, who leads the field within driving distance and shot a 67 to close the day in eight-under, tied for second place with Scottie Scheffler, a 24-year-old Texan and a tour rookie who was little amateur at the US Open 2017. Scheffler shot a 65.
Then there will be famous characters like Brooks Koepka, who was seven years below for the tournament and strived for a third consecutive PGA at the age of 30 Championship and its fifth major overall. Also at the age of seven, Paul Casey, a 43-year-old Englishman, is looking for his first major title. And then, of course, there is 36-year-old Johnson.
This is the fourth time Johnson has taken at least some of the lead in the final round of a major. He did not win the three other tournaments. His only major title came at the 2016 US Open, where he finished second in the final round.
"I was certainly a lot younger," said Johnson of the three misses on Saturday. “I've been here for a while now. I've argued a lot, and I've done it many times.
Johnson has had 21 career victories, including one in June at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. Leading the field in acquired strokes, he appreciates not only his reading of the speed of the Harding Park greens but also a switch to his old Spider putter. On Saturday he made eight birdies, the highest number he has ever made in a round with a major. Johnson will be joined by Scheffler in Sunday's last duo.
Morikawa represents a new wave of players who have made a mark on the PGA Tour since it restarted after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the game for nearly three months.
He lost a playoff to another young star, Daniel Berger, in the first event back from the pandemic layoff, in Colonial in June, only to beat the world's No.1 Justin Thomas. survive in a three-hole playoff at the Workday Charity Open. a month later for his second professional victory. Bryson DeChambeau, 26, and Jon Rahm, 25, have also won on tour since the reboot.
Morikawa is still learning his trade at the highest level and said earlier this week that he played with veterans like Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson. had helped him change his pit approach. After pairing up with Scott on Saturday, Morikawa said the rhythmic beauty of the Australian's swing had helped his pace all day long.
The intermezzo with the kayakers, however, reminded him of what was missing.
] "If there were fans, I would like to feel a bit more of a grand feeling, with big crowds," said Morikawa, looking forward to Sunday's round. "But yes, I feel very comfortable, which is always a good feeling. Three birdies in my last four holes show that I am ready ."
The pandemic not only took the PGA Championship by three months, but also, when all realignments were completed, it became the first major for men since the British Open in July 2019. Johnson indicated that the absence of spectators was another concession to the coronavirus , may have benefited newer players on tour.
"Playing without large crowds helps guys who haven't been there, as large crowds play a big part," Johnson said. But on Sunday, he added. "Everyone will still feel it."
The names at the top of the leaderboard mean that, unlike the fairways in Harding Park, the hunt for the Wanamaker Trophy is wide open.
Chaos can reign on a weekend at one Major: Li Haotong, the leader of the second round, lost a golf ball in a cypress tree on the back nine on his way to a 73rd on Saturday. Those who embrace the whims of a municipal course with idiosyncrasies emerge.
"It's a really beautiful place – I love the cypresses," said Scheffler, whose 65 corresponded to Morikawa. "It looks good to me."
A player who knows something about what it takes to win on Sunday offered some thoughts. Tiger Woods, after struggling again with a two-over 72, provided his analysis of the final chase.
"You see the same handful of guys up there, they understand how to win big championships," Woods said before Koepka name research. & # 39; We see Brooksy up there again. Guys who know how to play tough courses and difficult locations are usually up there, whether with crowds or no throngs.
Koepka shared Woods's perspective and alluded to Johnson & # 39; s history of vulnerability. "I love my opportunities," said Koepka. .
"I don't know," he added, noting that Johnson "had only won one, so – I'm playing well, so we'll see."