Viktor Hovland roared through the top 30 players on the PGA Tour in 2023 to win the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. Hovland’s 27 under par ,starting with his second place position of 8 under par, shot 19 under par on a pretty difficult golf course. World No. 1, Scottie Scheffler finished tied for 6th but could only go 1 under par for the event with a non cooperative putter. He finished dead last in the field in putting. Hovland produced consistent prodigious tee shots that enabled him to position for iron shots that opened multiple birdie opportunities. Many of his shots enabled him to get within 9-12 feet on the greens and he drilled a number of those putts into birdies. At East Lake, the ball must be below the hole to make putts, virtually anything above the hole is very difficult.
The first two rounds produced a lot of low scores due to patches of rainfall that softened the greens that enabled the field to move aggressively at the pins. In the third round, East Lake reared its ugly head with heat, humidity, and tough pin placements. Scores ballooned but not Hovland’s. He continued to attack the courses with accurate drives and iron shots that kept him in position on these difficult greens. For a bunch of reasons, the third round produced a batch of bad golf shots from the field as contenders such as Colin Morakawa, Scheffler, McIlroy couldn’t make the moves to get close to Hovland. Only Xander Schauffele could stay close with a 68 on Saturday to get within a shot. Hovland may have thought that a final round close to par might get it done in these conditions with heat and humidity.
A thunderstorm about an hour into the final round play turned things around as the rain softened the greens again and it was game on. The gods of golf determined that it would take another plethora of birdies to decide the outcome and Hovland and Schauffele were up to the challenge. A number of competitors in the field were also up to this challenge as Rory McIlroy, Wyndham Clark, Patrick Cantlay and Tommy Fleetwood made significant moves but it was too late. Hovland and Schauffele waived the field goodbye and Schauffele got within to three shots only to see Hovland pour on three birdies in the last three holes to win this event by 5 shots. It’s not often that a professional shoots 62 in the Final Round and finish second in the tournament–this was Schauffele’s fate this week.
Hovland has been working hard on his game. While this statement might be viewed as a cliche since all professionals work hard on their game, Hovland showed significant weakness in his short game of chipping and putting throughout 2023. His long game is solid but he really started to work hard on his short game and the last few weeks have demonstrated the payback for the effort. For the past two weeks, Hovland has been the best player and he has had a very successful season. I still have to name Jon Rahm as the player of the year and the guy that every professional has to beat each week. In addition to his four victories on tour this year including the Masters, Rahm can never be counted out in any event with his aggressive “no give up” style of play. Finally, hats off to Lucas Glover–after missing a 2 ft. putt to qualify for the 2023 US Open, many players might have given up the game as the pain of this miss had to be devastating to the winner of the 2009 US Open at Bethpage Black. Lucas refused to accept this result and decided to change putters and technique completely and has been playing and putting successfully since then with a long putter designed for Adam Scott.
Finally, a golf tragedy on the Senior PGA Tour. One or more of the gods of golf had a very bad day and decided to take it out on Paul Goydos. Goydos was on the 17th hole of the final round of Sunday’s tournament with the lead and proceeded to 5 putt the 17th hole…three of those putts were tap-ins for all players. He had to ooze in the 5th putt from 2 inches. It made Lucas Glover’s experience at US qualifying a nothingburger. Goydos was crushed as he ended the tournament tied for 3rd place after leading the tournament throughout the week. Perhaps Goydos was one of these sacrifices that have to be offered up to the gods of golf to satisfy their need to punish the professional as they seem fit. Awful to experience and hard to watch!