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NAPA, Calif. – While he may still be in the early stages of his professional career, Collin Morikawa feels right at home at this week’s Safeway Open.
Morikawa made his PGA Tour debut at this event two years ago, missing the cut as an amateur, and he went to college at Cal less than an hour away. His caddie, J.J. Jakovac, is a Napa-area native who went to high school less than five miles from Silverado Resort and Spa.
“My caddie, J.J., pretty much living here, I think more people are rooting for him than anyone else here,” Morikawa said. “But it’s just kind of cool. It feels good to be back in an area that I’ve been the past four-and-a-half, five years.”
Morikawa even got some extra incentive early in the week when tournament officials put him in one of the marquee early-round groups alongside two of the best from the Golden State, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Cantlay. The 22-year-old backed up that standing in a big way Friday, shooting an 8-under 64 to vault into contention and tie Justin Thomas for the low round of the week.
The score was eight shots better than Morikawa’s opener and left him one shot off the lead when he signed his scorecard.
“Today it was just, ‘Let’s get in the fairway and get it from there,’” Morikawa said. “I was able to hit a few more fairways and just able to attack some pins.”
Morikawa burst onto the scene with his victory at the Barracuda Championship in July, a win that brought with it an exemption through 2021. That capped a run of three straight top-5 finishes, and while he cooled after his Reno triumph, he teed off this week well inside the top 100 in the world rankings.
On the heels of a hectic sprint to secure full-time status, Morikawa took two weeks off following the BMW Championship without touching a club. But he admitted that while preparing to make his season debut this week he began to feel “a little itch to get back out.”
“It felt like a short time, but it was also a long time because I played so many weeks in a row in the summer,” Morikawa said. “I was ready to get back out here this week and finally start competing.”