PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After missing the cut last week, Collin Morikawa headed to TPC Sawgrass with a single-minded purpose: to fix a two-way miss that had confounded him. Still, he told everyone on his team that he was going to take Saturday off.
“That was a lie,” Morikawa said. “I hit balls on Saturday and Sunday. I hit more balls than I ever had just to find something.”
It took him three days until Monday, but find something he did, allowing him to work his trademark cut ball flight and put on a stripe show on Thursday in the opening round of the Players Championship. Morikawa made an eagle and five birdies en route to shooting 7-under 65, a stroke behind Chad Ramey, who grabbed the early lead.
Morikawa, the 26-year-old two-time major champion, planted himself on the back side of the range at TPC Sawgrass and dug it out of the dirt. He said he hit balls for more than two hours, working through five or six bags each day.
“Which I rarely do. But it was to find that one feel. I was like how do I find that feel?” he said. “I wasn’t too worried after last week. We’re at the Players Championship and I want to be playing well. I don’t want to be missing cuts but I probably wouldn’t have figured it out if I hadn’t missed the cut (at the Arnold Palmer Invitational).”
Morikawa arguably is the game’s best iron player, but he acknowledged that his swing hasn’t been dialed in of late. He’s missed two of his last three cuts and is winless since the 2021 British Open. Band-Aids have stopped the bleeding but he needed to find something more permanent.
“Swing thoughts can be a Band-aid or they can actually be a feel that you can take on,” he said. “My swing hasn’t looked this good probably since 2019 when I first came out.”
Starting on the back nine, Morikawa strung together birdies at Nos. 15 and 16, but really warmed up after making the turn. He played the first six holes of his second nine in 5 under, including an eagle at the par-5 second hole. Morikawa struck a 4-iron from 235 yards to 4 feet.
“Hit a little spinny cut 4-iron, mis-hit it a little bit off the toe but landed exactly where we wanted it,” he said.
Morikawa left a few putts out there, including a six-foot birdie at the last that would have tied him with Ramey, 30, who shot a bogey-free 8-under 64, one off the course record at the famed Pete Dye layout.
“I might have made it look that way but it wasn’t easy at all,” said Ramey, who became a father last week with the birth of his son Nolan. “It was fun, first time to shoot a score on such an iconic course like this. You can’t ask for anymore.”
Among the highlights was sticking a 46-degree wedge to inside two feet at the par-3 17th to take sole possession of the lead. Hayden Buckley aced the hole earlier in the morning, becoming the 10th player to do so at the iconic island green since 1991.
World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler was the low man with 68 in a grouping with World No. 1 Jon Rahm (71) and Rory McIlroy, who shot 4-over 76, his highest opening-round score since the 2021 Masters. McIlroy struggled off the tee and called the rough penal. He’ll need to find something fast, the way Morikawa and Ramey, who entered the week having missed three cuts in a row, were able to do.
“I know the scores haven’t showed it, but it’s felt really close,” Ramey said. “I just made one little tweak in my swing, and it really seems to be paying off. I kind of hit the ball where I was looking most of the day.”