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ORLANDO, Fla. – Viktor Hovland has changed.
Don’t be alarmed, for the endearing trademark smile remains. But the youngster isn’t the player he was six months ago. He’s better.
Back then, he was still pretty stout adapting to the learning curve of the PGA Tour. The 2018 U.S. Amateur champion had broken through for his first PGA Tour title in the 2020 Puerto Rico Open and looked destined to become a week-in, week-out threat in the professional ranks.
Then the COVID-19 global pandemic shut down the Tour. Hovland still posted some fine results when golf returned in June but his work to increase his speed, improve his putting and chipping and elevate his overall game started to take hold.
Now he’s on a scorcher.
The Norwegian, 23, has six top-6 finishes in his last seven starts, including his second title coming in the Mayakoba Golf Classic, and heads into this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational as the No. 13-ranked player in the world and coming off a tie for second in the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship.
“Every single area of my game is very, very different,” Hovland said this week. “I’m hitting it further, I’m not curving it as much left-to-right as I used to off the tee. I can hit my irons higher. I’m swinging it a little faster so that helps out of the rough. My short game’s better, I’m using more bounce, I can hit more shots.
“And putting, I can actually read putts consistently. Before it was just a guess. So it’s like it’s really cool to look at, I feel like just every single part of my game has dramatically changed. Doesn’t mean I’ll be playing well every single week, but at least I have a better potential to.”
Hovland said his robust roll through the PGA Tour actually started in the Vivant Houston Open when he tied for 15th.
“That was the first week I took Aimpoint into play on the greens and I think I gained like two or three shots putting that week,” he said. “(Mayakoba) was the next tournament that I played and I won that.
“I’m a way better putter right now than I was when I first turned pro, even though I’m going to have some weeks probably where I’m losing strokes to the field for a given week, but at least I have a system now that I can kind of trust to putt well.”
His increased speed has really helped, too, and has led him to a scoring average of 69.63, second this season only to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
“My ball striking was already good when I turned pro, so there wasn’t a whole lot that I could really necessarily improve on,” he said. “But the fact that I’ve gotten some more speed I think really helps, not necessarily the weeks that I’m on and hitting it in the fairway, but even when I’m hitting poor shots and I’m in the rough, at least now I’m 15 or 20 yards further up in the rough and I can actually convert those misses into actually green hits on a golf course.
“Now it’s just kind of a matter of making a couple more putts and getting a few more chips up-and-down.”
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