Hovland the victor as Morikawa stumbles in Hero World Challenge

Victor Hovland (right) with the trophy along with Tiger Woods (centre). Supplied photo
Victor Hovland (right) with the trophy along with Tiger Woods (centre). Supplied photo

Bahamas - The Norwegian is projected to climb two places to world No.7, while American Morikawa misses chance of becoming the new world No.1

By Joy Chakravarty

Published: Mon 6 Dec 2021, 5:22 PM

Victor Hovland knew his good friend Collin Morikawa was up to something when he insisted on having the master suite of their shared accommodation. When the American proposed to his girlfriend, Katherine Zhu, a couple of days later, the Norwegian was one of the few in the know.

However, what transpired on a wild, wild Sunday in the Hero World Challenge was something neither of them could figure out.

Rock solid for the first three days, Morikawa, the reigning DP World Tour Championship winner, led by five shots, but stumbled with an unfathomable four-over-par 76 that included two early double bogeys in the final round.

As Morikawa faded away – along with it, his chances of becoming the new world No.1 — Hovland grabbed the opportunity.

The last time someone lost a five-shot lead on the PGA Tour on Sunday happened in the 2017 Hero World Challenge, when Rickie Fowler shot a 61 and beat Charley Hoffman by four shots. Hovland had started the day six behind Morikawa.

“Obviously, a little sad to see him not play his best today. He’s a great player and I expected him to just kind of roll away with the victory, but sometimes this sport is not that easy and I’m sure he’ll come back even stronger,” said a perplexed Hovland on the world No.2’s unexpected capitulation.

“I’m sure he expected to play better as well and he’s going to be a little upset with that, but that’s one of the things that is very commendable about Collin… he’s genuinely happy for me when I do well, and when he does well, I couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a good friendship.”

The seminal moment was the stretch of two easiest holes on the golf course — the drivable 290-yard, par-4 14th, and the par-5 15th. It was a masterclass on how to attack the weakest link. Five textbook shots followed and Hovland had one hand on the Tiger trophy.

On the 14th, he drove into the right bunker, from where Sam Burns had made a disastrous triple bogey moments earlier. Hovland holed his difficult bunker shot to get to 17-under.

On the 15th, it was a trademark sneaky long drive from the 24-year-old, which was followed by a 7-iron into the heart of the green and a 12-feet putt. He had moved to 19-under.

And when he hit his second shot to three feet on the 16th for a birdie, it was a four-shot lead with the tough closing stretch coming up.

As it turned out, he needed all that cushion. He dropped a shot on the par-3 17th when he three-putted from the fringe, and then missed his up-and-down on the 18th.

Scottie Scheffler (66) charged up the leaderboard with six birdies in seven holes starting from the 11th hole, but his clubhouse mark of 17-under-par fell one short in the end.

Receiving the trophy from tournament host Tiger Woods was a particular thrill for Hovland, who grew up watching YouTube videos of the 15-time major champion in Oslo.

“I remember sitting in the classroom just watching highlights on YouTube. He definitely inspired me and helped me in that way, but watching his highlights kind of made the dream of playing on the PGA Tour seem even more far fetched because you're going to be competing against this guy when you get on Tour, hopefully,” said Hovland, who is projected to climb two places to world No.7.

“It was more like a dream. But I also took a lot of inspiration and motivation from Henrik Bjornstad, who is our first player on the PGA Tour. After he stopped playing, he did some stuff for our federation. I was about 13 or 14 years old and I got to pick his brain a little bit. It’s not often that junior golfers in Norway get to speak with a PGA Tour player, so that kind of bridged the gap a little bit.”

Hovland heads back to Norway for Christmas and is expected to start his season in Abu Dhabi, followed by the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

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