NASSAU, Bahamas, December 2022.
There was a lot of excitement as Viktor Hovland, who seemed to have all but clinched his second straight Hero World Challenge as he went four up at the turn and was then two clear at the 18th tee. But it was not that easy.
No tournament is won till is it won, goes the old cliché. It was just that Hovland needed a 20-foot for bogey on the 72nd to claim a victory that denied Scottie Scheffler a chance to become No. 1 in the world rankings.
Hovland shot 3-under 69 to total 16-under as Scheffler also bogeyed the last to finish at 14-under and second for the second straight year.
Hovland had a dramatic up-and-down run on the final day. He first saw his three-shot lead come down to one but raised it back to four at the turn. Then on the 72nd, he needed to hole a 20-foot for a bogey to win. He holed the putt, just as he had done in clutch situations all week.
Hovland finished at 16-under 272 and won $1 million. The trophy was presented by Tiger Woods and Dr Pawan Munjal, Chairman and CEO of Hero MotoCorp.
The victory is unofficial, but the world ranking points pushed him up three spots to No. 9. Hovland joined the tournament host Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners. Woods won in 2006-2007.
For the second time in two years, Hovland dashed a top rival’s dreams of becoming the World No.1 with a win at the Hero World Challenge. Last year Hovland rallied from a six-shot deficit to win the HWC on his debut to thwart Collin Morikawa from becoming World No. 1. This time he beat Scottie Scheffler in a close battle.
Hovland smiled and said, “I would love to do that more (about beating others from becoming No. 1).”
Hovland was four shots ahead at one stage but with Scheffler refusing to go away, Hovland, too, found himself stressed at the end. Starting the final round with a handy three-shot lead, Hovland only needed to be steady and not make any mistakes. He did just that, at least for the most part of the round. Scheffler got the fast start he needed as he made two birdies and a chipped-in for an eagle in the first six holes, but he also needed Hovland to open the door slightly. That did not happen.
By the time the players came to the sixth, Scheffler with birdies on second and fourth had cut the three-shot lead to two.
Hovland’s first big test came when Scheffler chipped in from 30 yards and off the green to land an eagle on the sixth to go to 14-under. Hovland had still to putt on the sixth, The Norwegian needed to hole 12-15 foot putt to stay ahead. Showing an ice-cool demeanor, he putted it into the heart of the hole to move to 15-under and keep his nose ahead. The gap, however, was down to one.
It seemed to become a no-contest on the very next hole, the seventh. Scheffler went to the left into the shrubs off the tee and took his medicine by playing out of the edges of a spiky bush and ended with a bogey. In sharp contrast, Hovland rammed home the advantage by finding the green and nailing the 12-footer for birdie. The two-shot swing gave him back his three-shot lead.
Scheffler was again in trouble on the ninth. He missed the fairway, missed the green and then three-putted for a double bogey. Hovland again found the centre of the cup for par this time and he was suddenly five ahead of Scheffler.
Cameron Young made a strong charge and got within two shots at one point until he took a bogey on the 16th. Xander Schauffele also made an early run until that ended with a bogey on the par-5 16th.
On back nine Hovland dropped his first bogey of the day on the Par-3 13th, but he quickly made up with back-to-back birdies on 14th and 15th to get to 17-under. Scheffler playing alongside gave it all with birdies on 11th, 14th, 15th and 16th to keep his challenge alive. He now needed Hovland to crack under pressure and he almost did.
Armed with a two-shot lead when he came to the 18th, Hovland hit his 6-Iron from the slope above a bunker. It turned left and into the water. Following a penalty drop, Hovland hit a full wedge to 20 feet to have a chance to save bogey.
Scheffler meanwhile was in the sandy area right of the green, and his chip ran hard over the lip and settled 10 feet away, giving him a par putt to force a playoff if Hovland missed his 20-footer. Hovland holed his bogey putt from 20 feet and Scheffler missed. Hovland ran out a victory by two.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” said Hovland with a smile. “You’re never that comfortable. I didn’t play that great on the back nine, but it was good enough.”
Scheffler ran off three straight birdies through the 16th hole to get within two shots. For the first time in the day, Hovland gave him an opening on the 18th but he also closed it with the big putt.
Meanwhile, Scheffler said, “I said earlier in the week that I don’t like finishing second. It’s not a good feeling right now. But I’m proud of the fight.” It was his third runner-up finish this year.
Young had a 68 and finished alone in third, followed by Schauffele (68) and Justin Thomas, who had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine to salvage a poor start and close with 70 to finish fifth.