Victor Hovland saved some of his best golf for December yet again.
The 25-year-old Norwegian went wire-to-wire to win the Hero World Challenge at Albany Club in Nassau, Bahamas, and was handed the trophy by Tiger Woods for the second straight year.
“It was frickin nerve-wracking,” said Hovland, who held a five-stroke lead and nearly squandered it. “I didn’t play all that great on the back nine but it was good enough.”
The unofficial event is hosted by Woods, a 15-time major champion, and benefits his TGR Foundation. Woods was forced to withdraw from the event on Monday due to plantar fasciitis.
On a warm, sunny day, Hovland withstood a final-hole blunder and closed with a 3-under 69 on Sunday to notch a two-stroke victory over Scottie Scheffler. Hovland shot a 72-hole total of 16-under 272, and become the first player to successfully defend his title since Woods in 2006 and 2007.
“That’s pretty bad ass,” he said in a post-round interview on NBC. “I’m just happy he didn’t play the last two years. It’s an amazing event and to win his event obviously is very special.”
A year ago, Hovland rallied from six strokes behind with a final-round 66 to edge Scheffler. They dueled once again in the final round and this time Hovland held a three-stroke lead over Scheffler, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, heading into Sunday. He did so thanks to making a career-best 10 birdies and shooting 64 in the third round.
“It was so good, I didn’t even realize it, but at one point I was like, ‘Holy (crap), this guy is eight under right now,” said Xander Schauffele, who played alongside Hovland on Saturday and finished fourth. “I’m looking at the board, and I’m getting absolutely rinsed today. I played OK today, but he played so good I almost felt bad about my round.”
The 20-man event featured 15 of the top 20 in the world, including Scheffler, who could have returned to World No. 1 with a victory. He gave it his best shot, making birdies at two of the first four holes before chipping in for eagle at the par-5 sixth to tie for the lead momentarily. It was his third eagle of the week. But Hovland poured in a 10-foot birdie putt right on top of it and never would lose the lead again. His putter was red-hot all weekend as he only needed 47 putts over the final 36 holes, including 23 one-putt greens.
Viktor Hovland and his caddie Shay Knight celebrate on the 18th green after winning the 2022 Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
“Good luck beating someone who does that,” NBC’s Paul Azinger said.
Scheffler failed to get up and down at the seventh and made a double bogey at the ninth, stretching Hovland’s lead to five at the turn. Scheffler, who signed for 68, made four birdies on the back nine to cut the deficit to two strokes as they reached the last hole. That’s when Hovland flared his tee shot to the right and had an awkward stance near a fairway bunker. With the ball positioned above his feet, he aimed right with a 6-iron rather than layup. He did the one thing he couldn’t do, tugging his approach hard left and it bounced off the rocks and into the water.
“Oh my God,” Hovland muttered. “Wow.”
Two-shot lead, but in the water on 18.
Viktor Hovland is making things interesting. pic.twitter.com/mVgjYqPUPn
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 4, 2022
But staring a potential double bogey in the face and perhaps a playoff, he dropped at approximately 120 yards, wedged on and sank a 20-foot bogey putt to clinch the title.
“It was a lot more stressful than it should have been,” Hovland said.
PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young shot 68 to finish alone in third. But it was Hovland’s heroics with the putter that sealed the deal for the second straight year in the Bahamas and provided a perfect bookend for his previous win this year at the DP World Tour’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in January.
“He showed he’s got a lot of heart and a lot of guts,” Azinger said. “This is a big win for him. This is going to propel him. He always hits it nice, but if he can hole putts like that the future is going to be really, really bright.”