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Defending Champ Collin Morikawa 10 Strokes Back After First Round at Abu Dhabi

Cal graduate needs a victory to challenge Jon Rahm for the No. 1 world ranking.

Defending champion Collin Morikawa is 10 strokes off the lead after the first round at the DP World Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after shooting a one-over 73 on Thursday.

Scotland’s Scott Jamieson shot a bogey-free nine-under 63 to hold a one-stroke lead over Norway’s Viktor Hovland. Germany’s Thomas Pieters is alone in third at 65 and five golfers completed the first 18 holes at 66.

Morikawa, the 24-year Cal grad, is just one of four Americans in the field. Playing in the same group with Jamiseon, he resides in a tie for 90th place after a round that included two birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey on the par-3 sixth hole.

Just two months ago, Morikawa won the delayed Abu Dhabi event with a four-round score of 17 under, also becoming the first American to win the European Tour's season-long points crown.

Ranked No. 2 in the world, Morikawa returned to at Abu Dhabi this week presented with his third shot at above Jon Rahm into the No. 1 spot.

To get it done this weekend, Morikawa needs a wins while Rahm, playing at the PGA Tour’s American Express in California, finishes worse than a two-way tie for seventh.

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He got his first chance at No. 1 last month at the Hero World Challenge, only to squander a five-stroke lead in the final round. His Sunday score of 76 was his worst since March.

But Morikawa said he didn’t allow the letdown to stay with him very long. “I was frustrated for a couple days, and then you get over it and then I’m motivated,” he said. “So now it’s more motivation. But what you learn from a round like that is a lot.

"It was a weird Sunday because I felt great going into it. Game felt good. Warmup felt great. First couple holes felt good. It was just something I couldn’t get out of, and I went from trying to win the tournament to just trying to hit a decent putt. Just trying to start the ball on-line, and that’s the worst thing when you’re trying to win a tournament is when you’re thinking about things.”

Morikawa took a few weeks off then opened the 2022 calendar at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. He played well, finishing fifth. But Rahm was better, finishing second behind Cameron Smith and added slightly to his lead at the top of the rankings.

Cover photo of Collin Morikawa by Orlando Ramirez, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo