“It happened again, it happened again…” is what would have been ringing around the Plantation Course in Kapalua if golf spectators were like football fans.
But as Collin Morikawa saw a seemingly insurmountable seven shot lead crumble before him he was left with the disconcerting murmur of the Hawaii locals and the sounds of the ocean which went from pleasant to nauseating.
Remarkably it was Jon Rahm who came from nine shots back with seventeen to play who was left donning the Hawaiian flowers after winning for the third time in his last five events as a final round 63 saw him win by two on twenty-seven-under.
“If you told me at the beginning of the round I was going to do what I did and have a three shot lead at the finish I would not have believed you,” Rahm said after his round. “At that point it’s not like winning is in mind, you have to get to work and start making birdies.
“That stretch from four to six and birdie on nine allowed me to get into a rhythm and then the stretch of 12 to 15 was very important as well.”
Morikawa had been bogey free all week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions before he dropped three shots in as many holes from the 14th to allow Rahm to steal a march and all of a sudden catapult himself into a two-shot lead.
Rahm by contrast was electric as he smelled blood. A blistering run of three successive birdies and a crucial eagle on the par-5 15th put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. The cat destroyed them. And how!
Morikawa teed off with a six-shot lead and a routine start of three birdies in six holes – despite his first three-putt of the week for par on the par-5 5th – maintained that advantage over the likes of Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick.
As the two-time major winner stood in the green side bunker on the short par-4 14th, Rahm had just rolled in an eleven-footer for eagle on 15 to close within one on -26. Unbeknownst to what the Spaniard was doing ahead of him, Morikawa knifed his bunker shot over the green which ultimately lead to his first bogey in 86 holes at the Plantation Course.
They say birdies are like buses, sometimes bogeys are no different. Morikawa has been working extremely hard on his short game after a winless year in 2022 and, seemingly unflappable around and on the greens, the pressure got to the American and he lost his trust, sickeningly duffing a pitch to the par-5 15th and another steered putt rather than stroked turned its nose up at the lip.
Two bogeys in a row soon became a hat trick and drew a rattled outburst from the stricken Morikawa with his playing partner Fitzpatrick’s eyes locked to the ground with the familiar grimace club golfers have had when their partner is throwing away a great round.
All of a sudden Rahm had a two shot lead and unleashed a slinging draw towards the par-5 18th green. After seeing it fall off the bank on the left and nestle in a slight depression in the greenside rough, the world number five stood over a four foot birdie putt to shoot -60 for his last eight rounds at Kapalua and leave Morikawa needing an albatross to force a playoff.
It disappeared into the heart of the hole as he fist pumped it home, leaving Morikawa – shaking his head in defeat, needing a miracle.
“Fifteen was when it really became a reality when I had that putt to get within one shot, knowing how good I was playing, sixteen and eighteen are good birdie opportunities and 17 is a tee shot you can give yourself a chance on. The putt went in and I started thinking about it,” explained Rahm.
“I couldn’t believe I missed the green on 17 with a one shot lead and I made an effort to settle myself down and make sure I birdied 18 to give myself the best chance of winning. It was a rollercoaster five minutes.”
It all came down to trust for Morikawa who had holed almost everything he looked at for 62 holes but after passing up a makable birdie opportunity on the 9th hole in the final round, cracks began to appear.
But Rahm was flawless and in similar fashion to how he hunted down Louis Oosthuizen at the 2021 US Open, he put the foot down and didn’t let up.
There are two sides to the coin, Rahm played an incredible round of golf under pressure to shoot ten-under after a bogey on the first hole, he kept his foot on the gas and if he hadn’t put on a sensational charge, Morikawa would not have lost belief and trust in his short game and ultimately not have stumbled while his new pitching and putting technique held up for three and a half days but not 72 holes.
Morikawa has been in this situation before, seemingly immune to pressure after two major championship wins in quick succession, he squandered a five-shot lead with four to play at the 2021 Hero World Challenge as Viktor Hovland profited.
Ironically this was his first 54-hole lead since that day…
The world number 11 will be wounded after seeing lightning strike twice and as he awaits his first win since the 2021 Open, he will be hoping any scar tissue is more of a scrape rather than something internal.
No lead is ever big enough.
From an Irish point of view, Seamus Power brought a frustrating week to an end with a three-under 70 for a share of 25th place on fifteen-under.
The Waterford native did enough to maintain his position at the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
Meanwhile it was close but no cigar for a second time as Scheffler was unable to leapfrog Rory McIlroy and reclaim the world number one spot.
Needing a top-3 finish to return to the summit for the first time since October’s CJ Cup, the Masters champion drifted out to a share of 6th place on -21 after a three-under 70.
Scheffler too of course is no stranger to seeing a substantial lead evaporate after McIlroy hunted him down at the 2022 TOUR Championship.
Golf is hard.