Collin Morikawa isn’t one for golf records so he was unaware he could have tied the best round at Royal St. George’s by making an 8-foot birdie putt on his final hole Friday. He burned the edge of the cup as the gallery groaned.
Morikawa was still smiling. He was leading the British Open.
A winner in his first PGA Championship appearance last August, Morikawa is making quite a debut in links golf. He made seven birdies in his first 14 holes as part of a clinic in iron play and wound up with a 6-under 64.
Morikawa was at 9-under 131 overall, one short of tying the 36-hole record at the British Open.
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He was three shots clear of Daniel Van Tonder (66), Emiliano Grillo (64) and Marcel Siem (67) among those who played early. Also three behind was first-round leader Louis Oosthuizen, who played in the afternoon.
Morikawa isn't sure he would be in this position if not for coming over to the Scottish Open last week at The Renaissance Club. It's not a true links, though the turf was so tight that he changed three of his irons (7 through 9).
He also adjusted his putting because of so many long putts in links golf. He uses his saw grip for the shorter putts, a conventional grip for the lag putts. He is learning fast.
“I just want to create my own memories," Morikawa said. "There’s memories here and there, and I’m awful with golf history, unfortunately, like just remembering certain facts."
“I did not know 63 was the low out here. I just kind of came out and played golf.”
On a morning of low scoring at Royal St George's, where the sun was shining and the breeze off the English Channel was light, Morikawa and Grillo each had a 64 — Grillo was inches away from holing his last shot from the fairway — and German amateur Matthias Schmid had 65.
Morikawa was in sight of a bunch of scoring records that he apparently knew nothing about after some approach play that he said was “on a string.”
After picking up shots at the first and fifth holes, Morikawa gave himself birdie chances from within 6 feet at Nos. 8, 9, 11 and 12 and made them all.
He kept up momentum with a par save at the 13th after driving into a pot bunker, before hacking out of the deep rough on the par-5 No. 14 and making another birdie. At that stage, he needed two birdies to post a 61 for the lowest score in major championship history.
Then came his only bogey, at the 15th after missing a 5-foot par putt following a poor chip from a swale to the right of the green. It ended a 27-hole stretch without a bogey and he finished with three pars.
“Royal St George’s is beautiful. It’s a great golf course,” Morikawa said. “I think it fits into a lot of shots that I love to hit, so hopefully we can just keep hitting fairways and giving ourselves good numbers to attack some pins.”
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