Viktor Hovland is developing a flair for the dramatic.
The 23-year-old Norwegian drained a 10-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to edge Aaron Wise by one stroke and win the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
“I don’t really feel like I’m honestly very good at those pressure situations,” he said. “I was just trying to match the speed with the line, and it was just one of those times where it happened to go in.”
And yet, Hovland’s done it twice this year. He also sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the last hole in February to claim his maiden PGA Tour title at the Puerto Rico Open. In doing so, he became the fifth European player since 1945 with multiple Tour victories before the age of 24 (Rory McIlroy/6, Seve Ballesteros/3, Sergio Garcia/3, Jon Rahm/2).
Hovland birdied four of his first six holes at a rain-soaked El Camaleon Golf Club to erase a two-stroke deficit entering the final round. He vaulted into the trophy hunt on Saturday, tying his lowest score on Tour with an 8-under 63. Entering the week ranked No. 26 in the world (he improved to No. 15), Hovland, had made 13 straight cuts in a row, but only recorded one top-10 finish during that stretch.
“I’ve been doing a lot of good stuff since the restart, but kind of had one area of my game that’s been slacking every week, so that’s been kind of keeping me from contending,” he explained this week. “It’s just a matter of kind of putting it all together.”
Hovland also has taken greater interest in his fitness and nutrition, including trying several fad diets.
“When I got my first Tour win in Puerto Rico I was doing intermittent fasting and a couple of those tee times that I had, it was probably like 1:00 and I hadn’t eaten the whole day,” he said. “I just felt like trying that. I don’t think that was the way to go for me.”
Hovland feasted on the front nine at El Camaleon, which he played in 17 under for the week. He built a two-stroke lead heading into the final nine holes, but made a poor chip from right of the green at No. 12 that led to his first bogey since his opening hole on Saturday. That combined with a two-putt birdie by Wise and Hovland’s lead disappeared. Adam Long joined the party at the top of the leaderboard with a birdie at No. 13, but drove right into a penalty area of mangrove trees off the 17th tee, made bogey and finished tied for third with Tom Hoge.
Hovland bounced back from his lone bogey of the day with three birdies over his final six holes to shoot 65, for a 72-hole aggregate of 20-under 264. He was tied with Wise, who made an eagle and six birdies on the day, at 19 under when Hovland fanned his second shot at the difficult 16th hole into the sand – the first time he hit into a bunker all week.
“I thought I lost it after the second shot at 16,” he said.
From 20 yards, Hovland splashed to 8 feet and made the critical par putt. Wise had a 15-foot birdie putt at the last to take the lead, but missed left and tapped in for a bogey-free 8-under 63, tying his lowest career round on Tour.
“I’ve played some incredible golf and I’ve also played some really bad golf and it all kind of mixed in there,” Wise said of his best result since winning the 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson.
That set up Hovland’s final-hole heroics. Standing on the 18th tee he knew he needed to make a birdie to win. “I told myself, ‘OK, I was able to do it in Puerto Rico, hopefully I can do it today,’ ” he recounted. “But you know, it’s still hard.”
He posed on his 9-iron approach from 155 yards, parking his ball 10 feet right of the hole.
Hovland started using AimPoint a couple of months ago and implemented it for the first time at the Vivint Houston Open last month.
“Even though I’ve had way better putting weeks than this week, I’d say I’ve increased my odds of making a putt,” he said. “In the past I’ve just kind of eyeballed it and frankly, I’ve not been very good at it.”
The winning putt, he figured, was more than a 2 percent slope, but not quite a 3 percent slope.
“I hit it a little softer just because standing over it I felt like, ‘OK, if I hit this a little too hard it’s just going to hit on the high side.’ As soon as I hit it, I was like, ‘Oh, man, that didn’t break at all,’ and then the last 4 feet it just turned hard and ended up going in the middle of the hole,” Hovland said. “That was pretty sweet.”
No winner of the Mayakoba Golf Classic had birdied the last hole in regulation to win in the tournament’s 14-year history until Hovland coolly rolled in his putt. Or at least that’s the way he made it look.
“I was shaking there in the end,” Hovland confessed.
He had experienced nerves at this tournament, which gave him a sponsor’s invitation to make his first PGA Tour start as an amateur in 2018, before.
“Maybe even more nervous than I was making that putt on 18. I missed the cut by a shot there,” he said of his debut. “The next year I come back, first time as a pro, missed the cut by a shot. So, it’s nice to come back here the third time and get the win to kind of get some revenge for the first two times.”
Preproduced from an article in Golf Week