Victor Hovland eagles his way to victory at wild Hero World Challenge

Cameron Morfit / PGATOUR.COM

NASSAU, Bahamas – One of the things that makes Albany Golf Club tricky is that, like TPC Scottsdale and other desert courses, it’s a bunch of fairways rolled out over hard-packed sand.

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Errant drives tend to run out into bushes and plants, when they don’t find water, so when players get sideways, they have a hard time recovering no matter how far they hit it.

Viktor Hovland is one of the best drivers in the world, part of a super-elite subset of players who average 300-plus yards off the tee and hit 60% of the fairways. There were 13 such outliers on the PGA TOUR last season. Scottie Scheffler was another. That they each shot 66 to finish one-two after a wild final-round Sunday at the Hero World Challenge is no coincidence.

“When I first teed off and obviously got off to just making a few pars early on, I didn’t really think winning was even in question,” Hovland said after a topsy-turvy five-birdie, two-eagle round.

And why would he? Collin Morikawa, the most reliable superpower in golf over the last 18 months, coming to the end of a magical season, began the day five clear of his closest pursuer. He was six ahead of Hovland, his roommate for the week.

And then everything went crazy. Morikawa, vying to become the fourth player to reach No. 1 in the world before turning 25 – joining Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – shot a shocking front-nine 41 to turn the tournament on its head.

It was anybody’s ballgame.

Hovland had just made three straight birdies and was in a greenside bunker on 9 when he caught a glimpse of a leaderboard.

“I believe I was tied for the lead, maybe one shot behind or something like that,” he said. “That’s when I knew that, OK, if I play really well on the back nine, I’ve got a chance.”

He did exactly that.

Five players had at least a share of the lead, but Hovland broke out with eagles at the 14th and 15th holes, the first a reachable par 4 (hole-out from the greenside bunker) and the second a par 5 (7-iron in for his second shot). He birdied 16, too, building himself such a cushion that bogeys on 17 and 18 were inconsequential.

Viktor Hovland's clutch eagle on No. 15 at Hero

Mr. Working Vacation, Hovland came to the Bahamas having banked his three official TOUR wins at the Puerto Rico Open and World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba (twice). His second straight Mayakoba win came in his last TOUR start, a month ago. Islands. Sand. Vacationers. That’s his milieu, although he’s not sure why.

Asked if the unofficial victory felt like an official one, given that the Hero field featured six of the top 10 players in the world, Hovland said, “Hell, yeah! There’s only 20 guys in the field, but the players here are really good, and I feel like my wins have come when the field hasn’t been as strong, so for me to do well in a field like this gives me a lot of confidence.”

Hovland will remain fifth in the FedExCup and is projected to move up a spot to eighth in the World Ranking.

Morikawa was coming off a season in which he captured the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship at The Concession, The Open Championship, the DP World Tour Championship, and the Race to Dubai – the first American to win that season-long title. He looked like a lock at Albany – until he double-bogeyed two of his first six holes.

Sam Burns was tied for the lead when he twice chipped up to the elevated 14th green only to see his ball bound up the hill, stop, and trickle back to his feet. He made a long putt for a triple, eagled his next hole, shot 69, and tied for third.

Scheffler, who birdied six of his last eight holes, might have won but for the triple-bogey he made at the par-4 fourth hole.

Brooks Koepka, one of the last players on the range Saturday night, played with Morikawa and had an outside shot at five back. Alas, he doubled the seventh hole and never found his A-game.

Then there was the comedy of errors that befell Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson, both former Hero winners, who hit from the wrong tee markers at the par-5 ninth hole and were penalized two strokes apiece.

In the end it was the analytical Hovland who will go into Christmas with the most to smile about. He plans to spend the holiday back home in Norway, where it’s too cold to play golf. That’s just as well, as he admitted he’s tired and could use some time away from the game.

“Just playing the PGA TOUR is pretty incredible,” he said, “just from thinking back to where I grew up and playing golf in Norway, you’re playing golf six months out of the year and it’s pretty farfetched to even just play golf professionally coming from Norway.

“So, for me to be here and winning tournaments is pretty unreal,” he added.

Well, it’s real. That happened. Calamity was for the other guys, Hovland capitalized on his strengths, and left another sun-splashed tropical locale a winner. The numbers don’t lie.

Fairways Magazine

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