Playing in just his second major and barely 15 months after graduating from Cal, Collin Morikawa will wake up Sunday morning knowing he can win the PGA Championship.
The 23-year-old shot a third-round 65 on Saturday to climb from a tie for 25th place into a tie for fourth place with Brooks Koepka and Paul Casey, two strokes off the lead.
Morikawa, who finished in 35th place at the 2019 U.S. Open in his only previous major, is seven-under at 203 through 54 holes. He made seven birdies on Saturday, including three over the final four holes.
The leaderboard shuffled repeatedly after Morikawa was done for the day and when the dust settled Dustin Johnson held the lead at nine under, one stroke ahead of Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ, a 25-year-old Sacramento native.
Koepka, the two-time defending PGA champ, had a wild back nine. He suffered three straight bogeys through the 15th hole before recovering with birdies on two of the final three holes. He is hoping to become the first player since Walter Hagen in the 1920s to win three straight PGA titles.
Morikawa tees off Sunday at 1:40 p.m. PT, paired with Champ in the second-to-last group to start. Johnson and Scheffler will begin at 1:50 p.m.
There will again be no fans at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco for Sunday’s final round, a unique setting courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Morikawa said that won’t take away from the biggest opportunity of his brief professional career.
“It’s still the PGA Championship. It’s still a major. The adrenaline’s still going to be pumping,” he said. “I’ve just got to stick to the game plan I’ve been doing.”
Morikawa was strong out of the gate Saturday, scoring birdies on the third, fifth and seventh holes for a 32 on the front nine that had him in a tie for eighth place at five-under for the tournament.
He birdied the 10th to move into a nine-way logjam for second place.
Things appeared to go badly when Morikawa had back-to-back bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes, dropping him back to a tie for 18th.
But after settling down with a par on 14, Morikawa ran off three straight birdies, including on No. 17, where he had scored bogeys each of the two previous day. That moved him briefly into a tie for the lead at seven under.
Morikawa said he felt the pressure to deliver.
"I had to play well,'' he said. "Who knows if one of the leaders shoots 5 or 6-under and really separates themselves. To have a chance, I had to shoot a pretty good round at least. Now anything can happen to anyone.''
After making par on the 18th to complete his round, Morikawa said improved play on the greens has made a big difference.
“Obviously, putting’s kind of been my weakness throughout this entire year,” he said, adding that he spent time recently watching good putters, including Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson and Brooks Koepka. “It all kind of translated into what I’ve been doing.”
Morikawa acknowledged that familiarity with a course he played perhaps a dozen times while at Cal has been a benefit.
“It’s really nice coming into a course that I knew. Obviously it plays very different with the all the tees back, rough up, tougher pins,” he said. “But it helped, coming in Tuesday morning (for practice rounds), when I started playing that I knew the course.”
There are 11 golfers within three strokes at the top and six more one stroke back of that pack. One of those half-dozen is second-round leader Haotong, a 25-year-old from China, who stumbled late with a double-bogey and two bogeys over his final six holes.
Cal’s other weekend survivor, Byeong-Hun An, shot a 71 in the third round and is at two-over 212 and 11 strokes off the pace entering play Sunday.
He had birdies on the third, sixth and seventh holes on the front nine, but was sabotaged by five bogeys, including three in a four-hole span (12, 14 and 15) on the back nine.
Tiger Woods also resides at two-over for the tournament after shooting a third-round 72.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Cal Sports Report on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page