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Back on Maui, Morikawa vaults into contention

Collin Morikawa watches his drive off the first tee Friday during the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAPALUA — Collin Morikawa acknowledges with a sly smile that he is as much of a hometown favorite as anyone in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

“I guess, yeah,” the California native said at the end of his media availability after Friday’s second round at the Kapalua Plantation Course. “There’s a sense of home, I’ve been here a billion times. So it’s nice, it is a vacation, but at the end of the day we are here to play some really good golf and I want to come out on top on Sunday and still have two more days to do that.”

Morikawa vaulted into contention with an 8-under-par 65 on Friday that left him in a four-way tie for second place at 12-under 134.

Morikawa played with Daniel Berger on Friday and they matched 65s, leaving both two shots behind leader Harris English.

“Yeah, Dan is an awesome guy,” Morikawa said. “We have had a lot of good groupings so far throughout last year and it just makes it easy. We’re in Hawaii. How could you not enjoy it? We were just kind of feeding off each other making birdies back and forth.”

Berger had a similar assessment of the pairing.

“He’s just such a great player and whenever you get a chance to play with someone who is playing well, it kind of feeds off onto you,” Berger said of Morikawa. “So I felt like it was just a good energy today and we made a bunch of birdies and kind of hung in there.”

Morikawa played here for the first time last season, finishing tied for seventh at 9-under 283.

“It’s a great place to start. How could you not love Hawaii? I love it out here. I’ve got family out here,” Morikawa said. “If we’re starting out here in Maui every year, it means we’re doing something right earlier on in the year and I just hopefully make a few more trips out here in my career.”

Morikawa’s great grandparents owned Morikawa Restaurant on Front Street decades ago, and a reader of The Maui News found a matchbook from the now-closed restaurant and purchased it on eBay after last season’s event here.

“I remember that. Yeah, it was pretty cool and just learned a little bit more about my history and kind of all of my family back here, just makes it a little more special every time I come back,” Morikawa said.

There are not as many folks in the Morikawa entourage this week as last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just his girlfriend and immediate family made the trip, but Maui clearly holds a special place in his heart.

“I think it’s cool to hear someone that’s been to the Morikawa Restaurant a long time ago and say that they have eaten there,” he said. “I wish I could have been there, I wish it was still open, that would have been pretty cool on Front Street, but just to know I have history back here it’s always going to be a special place.”

Morikawa has vaulted to the No. 7 ranking in the world — he won the PGA Championship and Workday Charity Open in 2020 to make it back here. He got here last season as a 22-year-old after winning the Barracuda Championship.

He likes being here and now has a chance this weekend to guarantee a return trip with a win.

“I think I figured it out pretty well last year. Today we got a little lucky with how the wind kind of slowed down and we were able to hit little different shots and didn’t have to work it as much,” he said. “But out here you never know what you’re going to expect. We could have wind pick up to 30, 35 (mph) tomorrow and you’re just trying to hit middle of the green. So you just got to play each hole by what’s in front of you.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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