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Schauffele has big finish and 1-shot lead in Olympic golf

Schauffele has big finish and 1-shot lead in Olympic golf

KAWAGOE, Japan — Xander Schauffele has been pointing to the Olympics ever since he began his rise into the elite of American golf three years ago.Now that he’s here, in the country where his mother was raised and enjoying an Olympic experience his father could only dream about, he is trying to treat this like any other week.His play Friday indicated otherwise. Already with two eagles on his card, Schauffele surged into the 36-hole lead at Kasumigaseki Country Club by finishing with three straight birdies to tie the Olympic record with an 8-under 63.He had a one-shot lead over Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, who is sharing a suite with a boxer and delivered a few good punches himself in a round of 67.“I just got in a nice flow there at the end,” Schauffele said. “Kind of one of those situations where I wish I could play some more holes.”There was no chance of that, for him or anyone else. For the second straight day, thunderstorms caused a delay of more than two hours, and another batch of lightning and heavy rain ended play with 16 players still on the course.That included Hideki Matsuyama, the Masters champion and Japanese star who recovered from a pedestrian start and quickly worked his way into contention. Matsuyama was 6 under for his round — three shots out of the lead — and had a 5-foot birdie chance on the 17th hole when the round was suspended.The players were to return at 7:45 a.m. to finish the round.Also right back in the mix was the Irish duo of Rory McIlroy (66) and Shane Lowry (65), who were four shots behind Schauffele.“The goal today was to sort of get back in touch,” said McIlroy, who was six shots behind first-round leader Sepp Straka at the start of the day. “I just wanted to get into contention going into the weekend and at least feel like I was still a part of the tournament. And I’ve done that.”Straka had a 71 and was at 8-under 134 with Mito Pereira of Chile (65) and Alex Noren of Sweden (67).McIlroy previously sounded indifferent to the Olympics, which he skipped in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro. Once he arrived, he found himself already looking forward to Paris the next time. He can’t attend other events, but McIlroy is glued to the TV.“The one thing I’ve always wanted to go and see is dressage — always,” he said. “It’s mesmerizing. And it’s on tonight.”The Olympics were a goal for Schauffele all along, particularly in Tokyo.His grandparents still live here, and he made his professional debut in Japan. His father, Stefan, was a decathlete invited to a training camp in Germany. On his way there at age 20, his car was struck by a drunk driver and he lost his left eye, among other injuries.But there’s no need to think ahead to what a gold medal — any medal — would mean. Schauffele, whose last official victory was at the start of 2019, has been too caught up in that.“Obviously, you get to take home something a little bit more special than money, what money can buy,” he said. “So maybe if you keep thinking about it, it might become more special. But to me, this is just another golf tournament.“I’ve been pressing pretty hard for quite a little bit of time to win a golf tournament, to be completely honest,” he added. “There was a point today where I was starting to get a little impatient and I had to remind myself back to the times I did win, and the times I’ve been watching other people win. They seem to be pretty patient and staying in the moment.”Schauffele was at 11-under 131, right where he wanted to be, thinking of little else.He got there in part with his two eagles. One came at the par-4 sixth hole, where the tees were moved forward because so much of the fairway was soaked from rain the previous day. He hit a 3-wood to 10 feet. And on the par-5 14th, he blistered a 3-wood from 296 yards to the front of the green and holed a 45-foot putt.Ortiz also took advantage of the forward tee on No. 6 by hitting driver to 18 feet for eagle, though his birdies ran out after the 11th hole.As much fun as he’s having on the course, the good stuff is back at the Olympic Village. Ortiz is among players who don’t mind the 90-minute commute in exchange for hanging out with all the other athletes. The sleep it’s costing him is not all about the commute.He is sharing a suite with light heavyweight Rogelio Romero.“The other day he finished his fight. I’m waking up at 4 a.m., he’s coming back at 11 p.m., getting in the ice bath, waking up everybody,” Ortiz said. “He’s like: ‘I’m so sorry, I’m still running on adrenaline. I’m just trying to calm down.’ You wouldn’t get that anywhere else. It’s fun. I’ve loved it so far.”Romero was to fight again Friday night. Ortiz has played well enough that he can at least sleep in.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Austrian-born, American-raised, Straka leads Olympic golf

Austrian-born, American-raised, Straka leads Olympic golf

Sepp Straka had missed six cuts in his last seven starts on the PGA TourBy DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf WriterJuly 29, 2021, 8:32 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKAWAGOE, Japan — Golf is among the hardest sports to predict, and the Olympics is no exception.How else to explain Sepp Straka?Austrian-born and American-groomed, he had missed the cut in six of his last seven starts on the PGA Tour. Straka didn’t arrive until Tuesday to make sure his required COVID-19 tests were in order. And then he couldn’t seem to miss a shot at Kasumigaseki Country Club, tying an Olympic record with an 8-under 63 to take the 18-hole lead.“If you just put it in the fairway, you can really take advantage,” Straka said. “And I got hot with my irons, especially my short irons and wedges. I was really knocking down the flag stick and really tried to stay aggressive with those.”The red shirt he wore for the opening round was appropriate. It’s the team color of his native Austria and the Georgia Bulldogs, his alma mater.Straka identifies easily with both.His mother is an American who traveled to Austria with a boyfriend and stuck around when the relationship ended. She was working in a pro shop in Salzberg when she sold a golf glove to a customer whom she eventually married.They became parents of twins — Sepp (full name Josef) and Sam — and they were raised in Austria until his mother wanted to be closer to home. When he was 14, Straka moved from Vienna to Valdosta, Georgia.He is No. 161 in the world and wouldn’t be at the Tokyo Olympics except that Bernd Wiesberger, the highest-ranked Austrian at No. 62 in the world, chose not to play. That spot went to Straka, a 28-year-old whose only victory so far was on the Korn Ferry Tour three years ago.But that red shirt is all about his native country this week.“I spent my first 14 years over there. It’s home,” Straka said. “I used to say that I was 50% Austrian, 50% American. A friend of mine corrected me, said I’m 100% Austrian and 100% American. So I feel fully connected to Austria — fully connected.”This is not his first time playing under the Austrian flag.Even living in the U.S. and preparing for college, he went back to play for the Austrian team that finished second in the European Boys Team Championship in 2011. The winner was Spain, led by a big kid from the Basque region named Jon Rahm.Straka turned pro in 2016, the year golf returned to the Olympics after a century-long absence. As an Austrian native, it got his attention.“I wasn’t close to qualifying back then but I was watching and it was seemed like a cool event, and everybody that I knew that went over there and played just raved about it,” he said. “So I knew at that point that was going to be on my radar and definitely wanted to play well so I could play my way in.”It was a dream start. After four birdies on the front nine, Straka surged into the lead with three straight birdies, which started with a big drive to 70 yards on the 400-yard 13th hole that left him a flip wedge to 10 feet. He got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 14th, and hit another wedge into 5 feet on the 15th.Straka picked up one last birdie with a tee shot to 7 feet on the par-3 17th.His record-tying 63 — Marcus Fraser of Australia also shot 63 in the opening round at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 — was only part of it. Straka decided to bring his paternal twin, Sam, to be his caddie.“It was a dream come true for us to be out there together and we had a blast out there,” Straka said. “It was a day that will be in my memory forever.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Rahm watching Olympics from home and still doesn't know why

Rahm watching Olympics from home and still doesn't know why

KAWAGOE, Japan — Men’s golf began Thursday in the Olympics, and the No. 1 player in the world was nearly 6,000 miles away watching from home. Jon Rahm still can’t believe he’s not playing.“I didn’t think ever that I was not going to be there,” Rahm said in a phone interview from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I can’t even tell you what happened.”The simple explanation is that he received a positive COVID-19 test the day before he planned to leave for Tokyo and fulfill his dream of playing in the Olympics, a chance to add a medal to a banner year that includes a U.S. Open title.The mystery is why it happened to him.Rahm passed five COVID-19 tests as part of the PGA Tour’s contact tracing at the Memorial the first week in June, and the sixth test came back positive. He was notified moments after he had built a six-shot lead going into the final round, costing him a likely victory.He had started the vaccination process that week, and because he was asymptomatic, Rahm ended his self-isolation early with back-to-back days of negative results.Then he won the U.S. Open, the first major championship for the 26-year-old Spaniard.Now this.“For people who don’t know, I needed three negative tests,” he said. “Thursday, negative. Friday, negative. Saturday, positive. I did a second one to make sure it wasn’t a false positive.”Rahm said he went back on Sunday and took a saliva test, an antibody test and a PCR test. The saliva and PCR tests came back negative, and it was confirmed he had the COVID-19 antibodies.By then, he said, he could not have received three straight negative results and arrived in Tokyo in time to play at Kasumigaseki Country Club, where he would have been the betting favorite.Along with already having COVID-19 and being vaccinated, Rahm said he flew privately to England for the British Open, where he passed every test required to play. He tied for third, the only player this year to have top-10 finishes in all four majors.More maddening to Rahm is searching for answers on why this happened to him.“I haven’t had two experts tell me the same thing,” he said.Andy Levinson, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president who has overseen the COVID-19 protocols, was not involved in any of Rahm’s tests and hasn’t spoken to him. From his experience and working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said it sounded like what the tour dealt with last summer.Some players still tested positive for weeks — sometimes months — after 10 days of isolation and no symptoms.“The reason the CDC does not require someone to test again after 10 days of isolation is it’s very likely that for some period the test is going to detect remnant viral particles,” said Levinson, who also is head of USA Golf at the Olympics.“Each day you have less remnant viral particles in your body,” he said. “If someone is taking a swab, it could be negative, and another day they could catch particles. It’s conceivable his positive result was related to that, particularly in a subsequent test.”The tour’s CDC-guided protocols allowed for players who tested positive for the coronavirus to not have to be tested for 90 days.But this is the Olympics. The ruling body is the Japanese government, and the policy is strict.Rahm has learned to temper his Spanish passion this year, helped by the perspective of his wife giving birth to their first child, a boy named Kepa. He credits that new outlook with allowing him to bounce back from the Memorial disappointment by winning the U.S. Open.That positive result before the Olympics tested him.“Five months ago, I would have been more mad about it. Not this time, but it did take more than a day to get over it,” Rahm said. “Clearly, I don’t have it. But the dream of being an Olympian is going to have to wait three more years. That’s really upsetting in a sense.”There’s a big upside. Through the pandemic, Rahm has learned from experience that golf is irrelevant. A close friend from Spain died of COVID-19. He and his family are healthy.“In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t get to play two big events,” Rahm said. “Golf is secondary. My wife, my son, my family is what’s important. I can’t say it’s a bad year. I got the U.S. Open trophy. I’m No. 1 in the world. I’m never going to say I’m an unlucky person.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

For South Koreans, Olympic medal is only way out of military

For South Koreans, Olympic medal is only way out of military

KAWAGOE, Japan — They keep telling themselves the Olympics is no different from any other golf tournament because anything else would only make it harder on Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim.It’s already tough to ignore the perks of winning a medal.And if either of the South Koreans find themselves in the mix Sunday afternoon at Kasumigaseki Country Club, it will be impossible to ignore a brand of pressure that no other player in the 60-man field can appreciate.An Olympic medal is their only ticket out of an 18-month mandatory military service.“I know it’s true that if we earn a medal the Korean government will exempt us from serving military,” Kim said through an interpreter. “But I don’t really focus or think about the service in the military. My only goal is to win the championship and get a medal and be honored.”The Tokyo Olympics might not be their last chance.Both are young enough — Im is 23, Kim is 26 — that they could get another crack at a medal in Paris three years from now. But that’s assuming they qualify. Kim was in a close competition with K.H. Lee for the second Olympic spot that wasn’t decided until the final week.Both also know the effect of walking away from the game for up to two years.Sangmoon Bae, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, played in the Presidents Cup in 2015 before a home crowd in South Korea. That was his final event before he had to enlist. Bae won a Korn Ferry Tour event a year after he got out to earn back his full card. Since then, he has missed the cut in half of his tournaments and is No. 958 in the world.“I’ve kind of lost my feel how to play golf,” Bae said in a 2019 interview. “Not how to swing — I forgot how to play golf.”Seung-yul Noh, another PGA Tour winner, started his military stint in 2018. Since his return — six events before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf for three months — he has made it to the weekend three times in 14 starts on the tour, with only one finish inside the top 50.Just another tournament? Im’s and Kim’s actions say otherwise. The Olympics meant enough to both that they withdrew from the British Open to prepare for the men’s golf competition, which starts Thursday.Im flew home to South Korea on July 14 and came to Tokyo nine days later. He wanted to be adjusted to the time change from the U.S.“I only focus and think about winning the games, not the military problem,” Im said.For South Korean golfers, the only other exemption is a gold medal in the Asian Games. But that’s only for amateurs. Whether a major would be enough to get out of the military isn’t known because it hasn’t happened. Y.E. Yang had already served before he beat Tiger Woods in the 2009 Championship at Hazeltine.Im pulled to within one shot of the lead in the final round of the Masters last November until Dustin Johnson pulled away. Would a green jacket from Augusta National have carried the same weight as an Olympic medal if Im had won?According to Golf Digest, the South Korean government made an exception for the national soccer team at the World Cup in 2002, hosted by South Korea and Japan. The team would receive exemptions by reaching the round of 16. South Korea made it to the semifinals.The national team at the first World Baseball Classic in 2006 was offered a military exemption for reaching the semifinals. South Korea finished third.Im would have a realistic chance to finish in the top three at any tournament.After spending two years on the Japan Golf Tour, he made an immediate impression with a win and a runner-up finish to start the year on the Korn Ferry Tour. He went 3-1-1 in his Presidents Cup debut in 2019 — playing with three partners — and won the Honda Classic a year later.“I do have experience playing in Japan for two years,” Im said. “And because I have the experience, the condition of the fairway and condition of the green is so good in Japan, so when I am making iron shots that will be no problem to me and I feel so comfortable.”In some respects, Kim is fortunate to even be in Japan.He is best known for winning The Players Championship in 2017 — one year after the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — at age 21. But he was sliding down the world ranking when the pandemic hit and postponed the Tokyo Olympics. That actually helped him.Kim won The American Express in the California desert in January to move back into the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time since 2018, and that’s where he has been hovering.“Because of COVID situation, my ranking was a little bit down,” Kim said. The objective was to work hard and get back “so that I could join the team this year in Olympic games.”———This story has been corrected to show that mandatory service for general military is 18 months, down from two years previously.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Column: For American golfers, getting to Olympics hard work

Column: For American golfers, getting to Olympics hard work

KAWAGOE, Japan — The day Justin Rose won golf’s first Olympic gold medal in more than a century, Xander Schauffele was toiling in anonymity in the heartland of America.Schauffele tied for fourth on the PGA Tour’s feeder circuit that day in a tournament called the Price Cutter Charity Championship in Springfield, Missouri. He won $29,700 and moved to No. 427 in the world.Five years later, no one should be surprised to see him at Kasumigaseki Country Club in a white shirt with a navy blue “USA” in block letters of the left side. He is No. 5 in the world, a regular contender at the majors and now an Olympian.For Americans, it’s the toughest team to make in golf.Countries can send a maximum of four players, provided they are among the top 15 in the world ranking. The Americans currently have 16 of the top 25 in the world. The U.S. is the only country with more than the minimum two players in the Tokyo Olympics.“Our qualifications system is simple,” Schauffele said. “We just play our normal schedule, and if you beat everyone else, you get to qualify.”He made it sound simpler than it really is.There are no Olympic trials, where one misstep could wipe out four years of hard work. Instead, it’s four years of trying to reach the highest level and staying there while the competition gets younger, longer and deeper every season.It’s not very dramatic. It doesn’t always make for great theater. It’s no less difficult.But then, golf remains a peculiar fit on the Olympic program, still in its infancy after returning at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 following a 112-year absence.The most obvious difference is the value of an Olympic medal, which doesn’t stack up to the four major championships. That can depend on the country, of course. Henrik Stenson got more attention in Sweden for the silver medal he won in the 2016 Olympics than he did for the silver claret jug he won a month earlier at the British Open.There are other distinctions. Unlike most Olympic sports, golf has no clear-cut favorites, nothing that can be classified as a major upset if someone isn’t on the podium. Nearly half of the 60-man field at Kasumigaseki has either won on the PGA Tour or played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. All are capable.“Golf is a different sport,” said Corey Conners of Canada. “A lot of people are playing for those medals. And I think some days you have it, some days you don’t. Anyone can have a good week at any time.”Hideki Matsuyama had his week at the Masters. Phil Mickelson was 50 when he had his week at the PGA Championship to become golf’s oldest major champion. Neither has finished among the top 20 in any tournament he has played since.The Olympics is no exception, and that’s why just getting here is the hard part.It might take several more years for players to appreciate that. Golf hasn’t returned under the best of circumstances, with the Zika virus in Brazil causing top players to bail in 2016, and the coronavirus keeping some players (Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau) and all spectators away in Japan.But as golf gets younger, the Olympics start to take root. British Open champion Collin Morikawa was barely out of high school during the last Olympics.“It’s so fresh and so new,” Schauffele said. “And fortunately, Collin and I are young, and so when we talk to you, it is exciting, it is very cool, it is something we want to do — winning a gold medal and representing the USA correctly. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t feel that way and feel strongly about it.”There is additional meaning for Schauffele that goes beyond the 422 spots in the world ranking he has climbed since the last Olympics.This is as much about his father.Stefan Schauffele was 20 when he was invited to take part in decathlon training with the German national team. On his way to the training site, he was hit by a drunk driver. His Olympic dream died that day. Along with having two years’ worth of surgeries, he lost his left eye.The father eventually moved to San Diego and wound up living next to a golf course, intrigued by a sport in which the ball didn’t move. He was so hooked that he became an assistant pro on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and remains the only coach his son ever had.For the father, an Olympic experience arrived in a way he never saw coming.“Dreams come true — his and mine,” Stefan Schauffele once said. “They’re the same dreams, to climb as high as you can in your sport, which was denied to me because of an accident. To be able as a father to see your son rise, it’s wonderful.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Happy to be playing, Matsuyama tries to cap year with gold

Happy to be playing, Matsuyama tries to cap year with gold

KAWAGOE, Japan — Somewhere between bringing a Masters green jacket home to Japan and trying to give the host nation an Olympic gold medal in golf, Hideki Matsuyama began to wonder if he would even get the chance to play.A month before the opening round, Matsuyama tested positive for the coronavirus.He went 10 days without hitting a shot during his self-isolation. More troublesome were the subsequent tests that kept coming back positive, even though he was asymptomatic. That led him to withdraw from the British Open, missing a major for the first time in eight years.“I wasn’t really sure if I’d be able to make it to the stage here,” Matsuyama said Tuesday. “So finally, I’m here. And I’m very happy to be able to be here.”The attention is as great as ever.Already considered Japan’s greatest player since the days of Jumbo Ozaki, the 29-year-old Matsuyama delivered a prize as good as gold when he won the Masters in April, making him the first Japanese man to win a major.The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate with the pandemic-delayed Olympics coming to his home country. The spotlight is as bright as ever.Mackenzie Hughes of Canada knows what it’s like to have a golf-crazed country in his corner wherever he plays, and he could only shake his head when asked what it will be like for Matsuyama this week, even without spectators.“I’m not sure you could ever relate to what he goes through,” Hughes said. “Not even just here, but week in, week out on the PGA Tour, we see the throngs of Japanese media that follow him wherever he goes. It’s quite impressive to do what he does and play as well as he does with a microscope on him all the time.”In some respects, the Masters might have eased some of that burden. Matsuyama tried to get in front of it last month at the U.S. Open when he said the four majors remain the biggest prizes in golf, and he has arguably the biggest of the year.He hasn’t finished a tournament since the U.S. Open on June 20 because of the COVID-19 diagnosis, and he wasn’t in the best of form before that. In the four times he played since winning the Masters, he hasn’t finished in the top 20.“Since my Masters win, I haven’t had the best results so far this summer, so I’m a little bit nervous,” Matsuyama said. “But I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be really fun, and I’m going to try to do my best to play well.”He is coming back to a good spot.Kasumigaseki Country Club, the tree-lined course about a 90-minute drive northwest of downtown Tokyo, is in mint conditions without any traffic in nearly three months. And while it’s new to most of the 60-man field, it holds nothing but good memories for Matsuyama.It was 11 years ago when Matsuyama won the Asia-Pacific Amateur at Kasumigaseki, which earned him a spot in the Masters.That was just a start. Matsuyama won his first Japan Golf Tour event while still in college, and when he turned pro in 2013, he won four times to capture the Japan money title.“So in a way, Kasumigaseki has been a place and catalyst for me to progress and grow,” he said. “So hopefully, I could do the same this week and move on to another level.”The 60-man Olympic field is stronger than it was for Rio de Janeiro in 2016, when golf returned after a 112-year absence and the top players stayed away, most citing the Zika virus.Golf lost two of its top players, Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau, to positive COVID-19 tests. It still has 12 of the top 30 in the world, a good representation considering Americans occupy 17 of those spots and no country is allowed more than four players. Even so, winning any medal is as difficult and unpredictable as most other tournaments.For Matsuyama, it’s a question of whether it’s tougher or more enjoyable for a hometown hero, even without spectators lining the fairways.Abraham Ancer only knows the loud version. He played with Tiger Woods at a World Golf Championship in his native Mexico two years ago, as nervous as he’s ever been, two days of stress and memories and lessons on how to cope with pressure.“And Hideki being from here, just winning the Masters … it’s going to be really cool to play an Olympics in your home country,” Ancer said. “I wish we had some people watching us, but still it will be really, really cool.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Column: With another major, Morikawa charting new path

Column: With another major, Morikawa charting new path

Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.Add another name with whom Collin Morikawa is now linked by his remarkable run through the majors in a span of 343 days. This one is a little out of left field, but it speaks to how much Morikawa has achieved in his short time on the PGA Tour.He will be the first player since Andy North in 1985 to make his debut in the Ryder Cup having already won two majors.It was different back then, of course. Tour players had to serve an apprenticeship before they could even become PGA of America members and be eligible. North won the U.S. Open twice before playing in his first Ryder Cup.“I think it was three years before you could start getting Ryder Cup points,” North said Tuesday. “And then you had to go through a three-day school. We had to take a rules test. That’s why a lot of players didn’t play in as many Ryder Cups as you would think.”Nicklaus, for example, had already won seven majors when he played his first Ryder Cup.“He is special,” North said, turning his thoughts back to Morikawa. “I was around him quite a bit at the PGA Championship because no one was there. He was the most mature, ready player that I’ve seen in long, long time.”And there’s still a long road ahead for the 24-year-old Californian.There were a lot of obscure records that came along with that silver claret jug he won at Royal St. George’s. Not since Jones has a player won two professional majors in eight starts or fewer. Nicklaus, Woods, Spieth and Rory McIlroy are all on the list of having two majors before turning 25. Nicklaus won two of those when trailing after 54 holes, just like Morikawa.The numbers are equally impressive: A closing 64 to win the PGA Championship at Harding Park last August, a 66 on the final day to win the British Open on Sunday. He played his last 23 holes of the PGA and his last 31 holes at the Open without a bogey.And he took his own place in the record book as the first man to win two majors in his first time playing them.His calm, his polish, his poise would suggest Morikawa is never in a hurry. His record indicates otherwise. And his wisdom was evident Saturday night when he was asked about playing in the final group at a major for the first time.“I’ve never been in the position all the other previous times,” he replied.Everything is new. And then he makes everything seem old hat.Morikawa still thinks back to the dinner he had with Justin Thomas on the eve of his pro debut in June 2019. Thomas assured him that while every path is different — some short, some longer — talent is never denied. Morikawa won in his sixth start.Winning two majors in two years elevates Morikawa to among the elite in golf, and he’ll face even more attention and scrutiny next week at the Olympics, and at Whistling Straits for his first Ryder Cup.If there are lessons to be learned — he has proven to be adept at that — it’s to reset the goals. That’s what he feels he failed to do when he won the PGA Championship last year.“I’m not going to throw everything into the trash and just say, ‘OK, we’re a completely different person.’ But goals have to change,” Morikawa said. “I didn’t do that last year.”And it showed. He had missed only one cut in his first 22 starts against a full field. And then he missed three cuts in a row at tournaments that had a cut. He had only two top 10s in his final nine tournaments in 2020.“I want to finish on a strong note in the season, and I’m going to sit down — when things slow down, hopefully — and try and embrace that and figure out what’s next,” Morikawa said.There doesn’t seem much holding him back.His putting stood out at Royal St. George’s, especially the ones he buried on the 14th and 15th holes (one for birdie, one for par) that were pivotal. Without data available at the British Open, his performance won’t apply to his PGA Tour ranking in the key putting statistic.Morikawa ranks 170th. The only other top 10 player ranked outside the top 100 in putting on the PGA Tour is Thomas at No. 108.It hasn’t kept him from winning two majors and a World Golf Championship among his five victories in just 52 individual tournaments worldwide.“Stay down the path he’s on,” Spieth said. “He swings the club beautifully, gets it in positions that make it very, very difficult to not start the ball on line. So therefore, he’s going to be very consistent tee to green. Clearly, with the shots he’s hit and the putts he’s holed, he’s not afraid of high pressure situations and winning a major championship.“I think winning one can happen to a lot of people playing really good golf in one week,” he said. “Winning two, three or more, he’s obviously proven that this stage is where he wants to be.”———More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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