Viktor Hovland held his nerve over a swinging four-footer to edge Denny McCarthy in the first playoff hole at the Memorial Tournament to capture his fourth PGA Tour victory, but by far the biggest win of his career.
Two putts from 50 feet would be enough for the Norwegian, who’s closing 70 matched that of McCarthy as the pair ended regulation play tied at -7, one ahead of Scottie Scheffler who’d raced around in an incredible 67 strokes earlier in the day – the lowest round of the day by a full three strokes – and for a long time looked as though he was in with a sniff of the outright win or at least a playoff.
Hovland’s three-under on the back nine was crucial, especially as he’d navigate the brutal closing three-hole stretch in one-under thanks to a birdie on 17, whereas McCarthy, who’d gotten to -8 on the front side and parred his way to the last, missed a lengthy par putt for victory before holding his nerve over a five-footer back to make the playoff.
What was already a special day for Holywood Golf Club promised to be even more memorable with Rory McIlroy in prime position to land his first PGA Tour win of the season after Tom McKibbin had delivered with aplomb in the Porsche European Open earlier in the day, but poor distance control with wedges at the front nine par-5s turned birdies into bogeys and he’d overshoot the green on the par-3 eighth and make his third bogey of the day to make the turn at +1 with ground to make up.
He’d birdie both par-5s on the back nine, but, forced to chase with ground to make up, a run of three bogeys in succession from 12 through 14 had effectively killed his chances and he’d close with a disappointing three-over 75.
“I did what I wanted to do,” McIlroy would say afterwards. “I thought if I could stay patient and put my ball in play off the tee, which I did pretty much all day, I only hit it in the long rough once. I was in the first cut three times and then the rest of the time I was in the fairway. So I did what I wanted to do. I just missed a few shots and a couple of — those two bogeys on the par-5s on the front nine were unforced errors and once I was, whatever I was, 1-over through 9 and Denny was at 8-under for the tournament, it was just — it’s hard to chase on that golf course the way it’s playing.
“But, yeah, like I hit a couple of loose shots on the back nine that at least I know where they’re coming from, which is good, but it’s probably — it’s a step in the right direction. I feel a little better about everything compared to where I was a couple weeks ago at Oak Hill. So it’s obviously not the result that I wanted today, but I feel like there was a few more positives than there was a couple weeks ago.”
Earlier in the day, a one-over 73 had seen Shane Lowry climb to a tie for 16th at level par, while a two-over 74 for Seamus Power included one of the only birdies on the day on the 18th, the hardest hole on the course, and he’d end the week tied for 41st at +4.
The win takes Hovland up to fifth in the world rankings, and after his impressive showing at last month’s PGA Championship, is further evidence that the Norwegian has taken his game to the next level.
“Yeah, it’s incredible,” was Hovland’s response when asked of the magnitude of capturing Jack Nicklaus’ event. “Obviously I feel like I’ve won a decent amount of tournaments for only being a pro for four years; however, they have been at low key places, resort courses, and abroad, so it feels really cool to get my first win on the U.S. soil, especially at a tournament like this where this week the golf course is arguably harder than most major championship golf courses we play and the crowds were amazing out there. It felt like a major. So it was a really cool that I was able to get it done at a place like this.”
Asked which was tougher, the four-footer to win the playoff or the four-footer in regulation play to give himself a chance of making the playoff, Hovland replied: “I was shaking more in regulation, that’s for sure. The one in the playoff, obviously knowing that Denny’s missed his and it’s basically a free roll, you know, if I make it, I win, if not, we still got a chance.
“So that was a little bit easier and it was more kind of up the hill, a little straighter. Whereas the one in regulation, even though it was a couple feet shorter, there was a little bit more break, and I had to hit it so softly. It’s not — you don’t really want to ram those in. And, yeah, I’m glad it kind of snuck in on the left edge.”