Final round preview of the Hero World Challenge: Collin Morikawa set to end 2021 as World No. 1

The 24-year-old’s sensational year looks on track for the perfect conclusion at Albany in the Bahamas.

Collin Morikawa's 2019 wasn't too bad. It was his first year as a professional golfer and he tasted victory in just his sixth start.

The Californian's 2020 was even better: two wins, one of them a first Major (the PGA Championship).

But his 2021 has been little short of magnificent.

In February he claimed a first World Golf Championship title (the Workday Championship), in July a second Major (the Open), and last month he mopped up the European Tour's Race to Dubai title with victory in the DP World Tour Championship.

Now he stands on the brink of completing a double of doubles.

In Dubai he landed the prize for the week and the season; in holding a 54-hole five shot lead at the Hero World Challenge he is set to not only win the tournament, but with it climb to the top of the world rankings for the first time.

His third round 8-under-par 64 was good for an 18-under total of 198 that leaves him five blows clear of Brooks Koepka in second, and six ahead of Patrick Reed, Viktor Hovland, Daniel Berger, Sam Burns and Tony Finau, who all share third on 12-under.

It seems astonishing to think that when he turned pro alongside Hovland and Matthew Wolff the three were rightly hailed as prodigious talents yet conventional wisdom whispered that Morikawa was underpowered in comparison with his peers, perhaps detrimentally so for his future hopes in elite competition.

Or that, in the wake of putting difficulties in the first event post-lockdown, that his performance on the greens was again cited as long term flaw.

Instead of being stymied by his weaknesses, Morikawa has strengthened them while also continuing to astound with his approach play, which always was world class and remains so.

Can he complete the job on Sunday and seal a magical end to 2022? Let's take a closer look.

Collin Morikawa - leader on 18-under

Incredibly, despite spanking an elite field through three rounds, he isn't entirely happy with the state of his game - or, at least, one aspect of it.

"I called my coach this morning told him the driver wasn't working," he said. "Figured out a little thing on the range and still wasn't working great, but found something on 16. Just something that I can use for tomorrow, and everything else feels pretty good from there."

He's under no illusions about his task tomorrow. The course is there for the taking, there is no forecast of strong wind, the early starters have the opportunity to apply pressure.

"I just have to go out and just play the way I have been," he said. "Be ready by hole one and play all the way through. Nothing's going to be a gimme tomorrow."

He is 1-for-2 at converting a 54 hole lead, but was a winner the only time he found himself holding the solo advantage (at this year's WGC Workday Championship).

Brooks Koepka - solo second on 13-under

After his first round, the four-time Major winner revealed that he is not been in the usual end-of-season mode.

"I worked my tail off over the last two months," he said. "I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm damn close and it was nice to see shots come out the right window, right flight, right shape, right spin, right everything. Just go work on it and get better and better every day.

"It feels like the last two years have been a struggle except for the majors and WGCs. I think only four top-20s in the last two years are outside of WGCs. It's not been very good."

He's pleased that the hard work is paying off, but he is also aware that his final round playing partner has been impressive.

"I'm five back," he said, "so I've got to do something special. It's always nice to be in the last group, but still got to play good.

"I think I played with (Collin) twice. So I mean, I can't get into his head. He does a pretty good job for someone who's been out here three years. I wouldn't switch it up if I was him."

Three of Koepka's 15 career wins have come from second at this stage and his most recent - this year's WM Phoenix Open - was when five blows back (and tied seventh).

The chasers

Who has the capacity to go low at Albany?

Ahead of this year Reed had carded five sub-67 laps in eight circuits of the layout.

Viktor Hovland is making a course debut, but he has won twice at El Camaleon, carding 65 and 67 in the final rounds to do so.

Tony Finau completed victory in The Northern Trust this year with a 65, he carded the same number in round four here in 2019, and he has also signed for a 64 at Albany.

Albany stats

Three of the five winners at the course were leading after 54 holes (two solo, one shared). A fourth was in second and just one blow back.

But Rickie Fowler has proved that a significant final round deficit can be overcome. He was seven back and in a share of fifth when he thrashed a 61 to win (by four!) in 2017.

He was helped by the fact that the five shot third round pace-setter Charley Hoffman could only manage a final lap of 72. We might assume that Morikawa is less likely than his fellow Californian to fold on Sunday.

Conclusion

Morikawa has the bit between his teeth, he's in superb form, has a good game plan, and can eye that target of becoming World No. 1.

But Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth have carded 75s this week - big numbers are possible and maybe the thought of hitting top spot for Christmas will unsettle Morikawa?

If it does, who could pounce? Finau is out first of the chasers, in the fourth final group, so a couple of early birdies could apply pressure.

He and Reed have gone low on the course yet are the least favoured of those in third by the bookies. A small play on both is the call (or maybe a lay of Morikawa).

READ MORE: Review of the season: A look at how Europe's elite came up short in 2021

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