Hovland on the cusp of FedEx Cup and Tour Championship glory at East Lake

Mark McGowan

Viktor Hovland (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Viktor Hovland cruised into a six-stroke 54-hole lead at the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship at East Lake with a moving day 66 that came despite a one-hour weather delay as thunderstorms rolled across a hot and humid Atlanta.

Seeking back-to-back victories after a final-round 61 saw him capture the penultimate tournament on the PGA Tour calendar in last week’s BMW Championship, a win this week would bring with it the small matter of an $18 million cheque and Hovland would become the fourth European to win the FedEx Cup and relieve defending champion Rory McIlroy of his mantle.

McIlroy, who’s struggled with a muscular back issue all week, had gallantly battled to rounds of 70 and 67 on Thursday and Friday respectively to build on his -7 pre-tournament starting score and move to -10, keeping his hopes of a fourth title alive, but those hopes look all but gone as a third-round one-over 71 drops him to -9 and 11 behind the runaway leader.


McIlroy was far from the only struggler on course, and Hovland pulling six clear was as much attributable to disappointing rounds from Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler as it was to the Norwegian’s quality.

Morrikawa began the day tied with his old college foe, and playing alongside Hovland in the final group, failed to register a single birdie until the 16th, making a double bogey on the fifth and dropping additional shots on the 10th and 11th to sign for a three-over 73 and drop to -13.

Scheffler, who was in the group ahead, started the day two shots back and didn’t make his first birdie until the last, mixing in four bogeys on his way to the same third-round scoreline and now trails Hovland by nine.

East Lake course specialist Xander Schauffele is now the nearest challenger at -14, with Keegan Bradley joining Morikawa in joint third one further adrift.

And Hovland’s lead could’ve been even greater had he not missed three putts from inside 11 feet on the closing three holes after birdies at six, seven, 12, 13 and 15 with a solitary bogey at 14 had allowed him to take control.

“Like, putting it all together, I don’t think I’ve ever played this well before, with this stretch, just putting all the short game and stuff together,” he said after his round when asked to evaluate his current good form. “I’ve certainly hit the ball this good before. I feel like I’ve hit the ball better than I have this week and even last week.

“But it’s just about putting it all together and it seemed like the good weeks that I’ve had before I’ve always managed to short-side myself or chip a couple times and end up out of contention. But the last few weeks have been — even this year I feel like I’ve just become a little bit more complete, and I don’t have to hit it my best to be in contention. I don’t have to hit every shot pure. I can miss it slightly and get up-and-down and move on.”

“To win the FedExCup is pretty cool,” he added. “That’s where all the tournaments we play earlier in the year leads to.”

A six-shot lead is not unassailable, however, and we need only look back to last year as evidence for that when Rory McIlroy overhauled Scottie Scheffler in the final round of the Tour Championship, and Jon Rahm reeled in Morikawa from the same deficit at this year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions – but no one has ever lost a larger one.

“I know what I need to do,” Schauffele said. “I need to go out and try and put as much pressure on him tomorrow on that front nine as I can and hope for the best.”

“He’s just playing unbelievable golf. He’s been working really hard. I saw him working hard through the playoffs there. I was out late and he was one of the guys I always saw until dark as well.”

But Hovland, who leads the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, Driving Accuracy, Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and Average Proximity to the Hole, has shown very few chinks in his armour thus far and has made just two bogeys in his 54 holes this week.

“I feel like I’ve just become a little bit more complete, and I don’t have to hit it my best to be in contention,” Hovland said. “I don’t have to hit every shot pure. I can miss it slightly and get up-and-down and move on.”


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