Thursday May 23rd, 2024 2:18AM

Collin Morikawa part of 4-way tie for the lead at Hilton Head. Scottie Scheffler lurks 3 shots back

By The Associated Press

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Collin Morikawa had another solid round Friday in the RBC Heritage with a 5-under 66 and appears to be getting back to the reliable form that made him a two-time major champion.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler's form never seems to change. Even after an emotionally taxing victory at Augusta National, a quick trip home to Dallas and only nine holes of practice, the world's No. 1 player is right in the mix.

It's crowded at the top after two days of warm, ideal conditions for scoring at Harbour Town, and this $20 million signature event is wide open going into the weekend.

Morikawa had a four-way share of the lead with Tom Hoge (64), J.T. Poston (68) and Sepp Straka, who recovered from an opening drive that plunked a spectator in the head and led to a double bogey. Straka saw blood but settled down after hearing the spectator was going to be fine, then put together eight birdies for a 65.

They were at 11-under 131, one shot ahead of a group that features Ludvig Aberg, the Masters runner-up who is starting to get anointed the biggest challenger to Scheffler.

Scheffler, whose Masters win was his third title in his last four starts, didn't look as though he did anything special, the very trait that makes him so good. He was bogey-free, picked up birdies on the par 5s on the front nine and then ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back for a 65.

He was three shots back.

“Didn't really struggle for par too often today,” Scheffler said. “I felt like I was attacking the golf course pretty well. Was able to post a good number. I felt like today when I stepped on the first tee I was ready to go.”

Morikawa has been searching for the key to that repeatable swing of his that led to a PGA Championship title in 2020 at Harding Park and the British Open a year later. He won last fall in Japan, but has been lacking the trust in whatever fix he keeps making.

But he found something at Augusta National last week — he was among those tied for the lead on Sunday until a pair of double bogeys around the turn — and kept hitting the sweet spot during practice and the opening two rounds of the RBC Heritage.

It's not perfect, and that certainly was the case Friday. But he feels he is finally on the right path. Morikawa doesn't feel as though he struck the ball well — he missed 10 greens — and still managed a 66.

“Still have a lot of trust in the swing,” he said. “Whether it went right or wrong, I was able to kind of accept the fact and move on. Two or three months ago — or even two weeks ago — if I saw a couple of bad shots it was like, ‘What do I fix? What do I try?’

“I kind of roughly know where the ball is going, and even when I'm missing it, still everything is a little bit tighter,” he said. “That's all you can ask for.”

Straka was rattled at the start when he bloodied the spectator. The tee shot was out of play, and Straka checked on the fan to make sure he was OK. He didn't miss another tee shot the rest of the way.

“You never really want to catch a driver on the fly, especially to the head,” Straka said. “That was tough.”

Aberg is emotionally drained from a week in contention, just like Scheffler. But at 24, he expects to be able to handle the fatigue. His swing is so pure and simple, it never looks as though he is trying very hard.

The Swede had a great finishing kick with four birdies over the last six holes, and one clever change of equipment. Aberg switched out his 2-iron for a 7-wood just for the par-5 15th hole, with has a 90-foot tree protecting the left side.

The 2-iron was too flat. The 7-wood gives him some height, and it soared from 258 yards over the treetops to about 30 feet for a two-putt birdie.

Rory McIlroy, who knows about hitting a high ball, was impressed for the two days they spent together at Harbour Town. McIlroy was scrappy with his irons again and still managed to stay in the mix at 7-under 135, four shots back.

He was pushing for Aberg to be on the Ryder Cup team last year without having seen him play in person.

“I had way too many people telling me this guy was going to be one of the best,” McIlroy said of when Aberg turned pro last June. “His attitude is absolutely perfect to play golf. It's not very often the person lives up to the hype. But he lived up to the hype.”

The target is still Scheffler, No. 1 in the world and not looking as though that will change any time soon. He was three off the lead and still looked to be the player to beat.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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