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Morikawa back in Middle East to start Race to Dubai defence

AP – It has been a half-year since Collin Morikawa won the British Open and he has gotten somewhat used to being introduced as “champion golfer of the year”.

This week is the first time the Californian has been referred to as the “reigning Race to Dubai champion” and he likes that, too.

“There’s a lot of weight that’s on (my) shoulders right now,” Morikawa said yesterday. “It’s a great weight to have and I want to come back as strong as ever.”

The first United States (US) golfer to finish a season as No 1 on the European tour, Morikawa is back in the Middle East to start the defence of a year-long title he claimed so memorably in Dubai in November.

He’s down the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) coastline this time, making his first appearance at the Abu Dhabi Championship – an event that, to many, marks the start of the European tour.

And for Morikawa, it’s about maintaining the high standards he set in the first couple of years as a professional, even though that is a big ask for someone already with two majors and standout Ryder Cup debut on his résumé.

Collin Morikawa walks off the first green after making par during the final round of the Tournament of Champions golf event at Kapalua Plantation Course. PHOTO: AP

“It’s a very unusual two-and-a-half years of turning pro for me, obviously with COVID and a lot of other things in the world,” said Morikawa, who won the US PGA Championship in 2020. “It’s just embracing being in the present – I think that’s the biggest thing, is how I enjoy the time wherever I am in the world.”

He has seen quite a bit of the world in recent months, too. Just take the location of his last five events: The CJ Cup in South Korea; the Zozo Championship in Japan; the World Tour Championship in the UAE; the World Challenge in the Bahamas; and, most recently, the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

Morikawa hasn’t finished lower than seventh in that period, and is ranked No 2. He missed the opportunity to go to No 1 by squandering a five-shot lead heading into the final round in the Bahamas and finishing tied for fifth, an improbable turn of events for a player who has proved to be so assured under pressure.

As someone who often appears and sounds wise beyond his 24 years, it’s no surprise to hear he took that experience as a positive.

“I don’t look at it as highs and lows. I think that’s for me the wrong way of how I put it in my head. For me, it’s just you have a good week, you have a bad week, things happen and that’s what we do,” Morikawa said.

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