Major Glory Eludes Hovland at Oak Hill But Knows Future is Bright
Viktor Hovland is getting closer to winning his first major championship, which is precisely why this PGA Championship defeat hurts so much. He was as close as he’s ever been, yet still walked away empty handed.
The 25-year-old from Norway hasn’t finished worse than seventh place in the last three majors. Not bad for a young man who has only played in 12 of them as a professional.
Hovland tied for fourth place at The Open Championship last summer, thanks to a final-round 74 while the other leaders were making birdies in bunches. Last month at the Masters, he opened with a first-round 65 but shot a final-round 74 and fell off the pace after an early double bogey. He tied for seventh.
On Sunday at Oak Hill, again, he was in position to capitalize.
Hovland was in the final pairing with Brooks Koepka and started the day only a shot behind. He fell three back early but continued to scratch his way back near the lead, getting to within a shot through much of the back nine.
Then, on the 16th hole, one bad swing ended all chances at capturing the Wanamaker Trophy. He selected a 9-iron for a bunker shot out of a fairway bunker and did not get the ball high enough. It went flying into the hill in front of that bunker and it became embedded. After a free drop, he chunked it out, then failed to get up and down and made double bogey. Koepka, the eventual champion, made birdie on the hole to create a three-shot swing.
Hovland was four shots back with only two holes remaining. He tied for second place with Scottie Scheffler.
“It sucks right now, but it is really cool to see that things are going the right direction,” Hovland said. “If I just keep taking care of my business and just keep working on what I've been doing, I think we're going to get one of these soon.”
The new World No. 6 has come a long way in a relatively short period. It was only three years ago when he lamented his chipping and putting. He joked about it at the time, but it was severely holding him back.
“I definitely need to work on my short game,” he said in a television interview in 2020.
He has worked on it, and it showed all week at Oak Hill, and particularly in the final round when he was in the heat of battle.
Before the hiccup on the 16th hole, Hovland made several key putts to keep him within striking distance. He made a birdie from 16 feet on the fifth hole, got up and down from a precarious spot behind the green on the ninth hole, then made a 10-footer for birdie on 13 and an 8-footer for birdie on the next hole.
The final tournament statistics prove what eyes watched over four days, that Hovland was among the best of the week with his short game. He was 10th in strokes gained: around the green and 25th in strokes gained: putting. He’d have dreamed of those sorts of numbers just a couple years ago.
Still, none of that matters now. Sure, it’s progress, but Hovland will leave New York without major glory.
“First place is a lot better than tied for second, but it is fun to even just have a chance to been one of these,” he said. “Just making the cut and finishing 20th … you haven't played poorly, but you've been a non-factor in the tournament. So to be in the last group, that was my second time and been in contention for three of these. That's pretty cool.
“There's another one coming up pretty soon.”