Viktor Hovland halts Collin Morikawa’s ascent at Hero World Challenge

NASSAU, BAHAMAS - DECEMBER 05: Viktor Hovland of Norway poses with the trophy after winning the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on December 05, 2021 in Nassau, . (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
NASSAU, BAHAMAS - DECEMBER 05: Viktor Hovland of Norway poses with the trophy after winning the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on December 05, 2021 in Nassau, . (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Sunday at Albany Golf Club saw one 24-year-old superstar, Viktor Hovland, get a career-defining win and another, Collin Morikawa, searching for answers

A supremely talented 24-year-old won the Hero World Challenge on Sunday with a display of brilliant shot-making and clutch putts. It just wasn’t the one everyone was expecting.

It was supposed to be Collin Morikawa, the two-time major champion who, with a win, would take his spot atop the World Golf Rankings. But Viktor Hovland sent a message: when talking about the best young players on tour, don’t forget about me.

As Morikawa stumbled in the Bahamas, seeing his five-shot lead at the beginning of the day quickly evaporate, Hovland was charging. He made three straight birdies on the front-nine. He chipped in for eagle from a greenside bunker on the short par-four 14th.

From the middle of the fairway on the par-five 15th, Hovland hit his second shot to around 20 feet and made the putt for yet another eagle. On the next hole, from 220 yards out, Hovland stuck his approach to within five feet.

The ensuing birdie gave him a three-shot lead that not even bogeys on his final two holes could make disappear. He finished at 18-under, one stroke ahead of another young star, Scottie Scheffler, and four ahead of Morikawa who ended up tied for fifth after a four-over 76.

The burgeoning superstar from Norway now has five worldwide victories in a professional career that began not even three years ago. He’s won two tournaments in a row after defending his title in Mexico in November. He’s missed the cut just once in his last 39 events dating back more than 20 months. All of this for a man who doesn’t come from a traditional golf hotbed and is still so young but so good.

“You know, still it’s crazy to think that I’m, you know, still just playing the PGA Tour is pretty incredible just from thinking back to where I grew up and playing golf in Norway,” Hovland said following the tournament. “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.”

Hero World Challenge: Collin Morikawa’s ascent to the top hits a roadblock

It was supposed to be a much different story. For 54 holes, the Hero World Challenge seemed like a coronation for Morikawa. He held a five-shot lead heading into the final round. With Tiger Woods hosting the tournament and on-site to watch, Morikawa had a chance to do something that only Woods has done.

A win would’ve made Morikawa the fastest player since Woods to become No. 1 in the world. It took Woods just 21 professional events to reach the top spot; Morikawa was making his 61st professional start this week and already has more majors and only three fewer wins than Woods had at the same stage of his career.

He seemed unflappable, impervious to pressure and certain to take his rightful place at the top of the sport. But it wasn’t to be. From the middle of the fairway on the fourth hole, Morikawa’s usually stellar iron game let him down. He left his approach well left in the bushes and made double bogey. He made another double on the par-five sixth and also bogeyed the ninth, another par-five, going out in five-over 41.

Hovland couldn’t help but feel for his close friend. They were born seven months apart in 1997 and turned pro at the same time in June 2019. Hovland and Morikawa came up together in the professional ranks and even roomed together this week.

“Obviously, a little sad to see him not play his best today,” Hovland said. “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.”

In 2014, another up-and-coming superstar, Jordan Spieth, used a win in this event to catapult him to the greatest heights of the sport the next year. Hovland has never won a major, has never really even contended in one. But he just beat 19 of the best players in the world in front of the greatest player the game has ever known.

Morikawa will learn from this. His swing is too pure to go into any kind of prolonged slump. He’s already experienced all the glory golf has to offer. For Hovland, he got his first taste this week and there’s much more to come.

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