After a fall series where FedExCup storylines had skewed focus towards a resurgent old brigade it seemed fitting to end the 2020 portion of this season with a reminder of the young talent we’ve been blessed with of late.
Viktor Hovland notched up PGA TOUR win No. 2 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic presented by UNIFIN at a rain soaked El Camaleon, making the 23-year-old Norwegian just the fifth European player (since 1945) to earn multiple TOUR titles before turning 24. It’s an esteemed list that includes Rory McIlroy, Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm.
Here’s five things you may have missed from the shootout on the Mexican coast.
1. Viktor Hovland is a character we can all love
The Norwegian former U.S. Amateur champion has been dubbed the smiling assassin at times because he just always appears to be having a great time. He portrays a player who doesn’t take the consequences inevitable in this great game too seriously, and as such makes him easy to cheer for.
He claims he’s terrible in the pressure moments … claims he’s a mess and not comfortable. But yet there was an apparent air of calm over him as he sent his tee shot to the fairway, his approach to 10-feet, and his final putt into the hole on the 72nd hole to win by a shot.
If there is a weakness in the youngster’s raw game, it is around and on the greens, where at times he can be a little unreliable chipping and putting. In Mayakoba he was 5 of 11 in scrambling for the week and had missed a short birdie putt at the 15th that would have made life extremely tough for the other competitors.
Soon after a terrible approach to the 16th had him well short and in sand some 40-yards from the pin. But instead of letting it be the start of a downward spiral, Hovland stuck his third to about the same length as the putt he missed moments earlier. This time, he nailed it.
That par left him in prime position to control his destiny and by the time he came to the last he knew birdie would win the title. Facing a 10-footer for it all he smoothed it in like he was one of the best putters on TOUR. Brilliant stuff.
Read more here.
2. A second win can be tougher than the first
While Hovland chalked up TOUR win No. 2 there were a handful of other players who were looking to do the same that obviously did not cross what can be an elusive barrier.
Runner-up Aaron Wise broke through a couple of seasons ago at the AT&T Byron Nelson and positioned himself beautifully on Sunday a couple of groups ahead of Hovland. A birdie on the 15th had Wise at eight-under on his round and part of the lead at 19-under, making the former NCAA champ a huge threat.
But despite some great shots coming home he was unable to sink one more critical putt, leaving the door open for Hovland to pounce. Clearly though, Wise is going to find himself with more chances in the coming months and years.
Chances doesn’t mean wins though. Just ask Tony Finau. With the help of a new putting setup Finau was tied second through two rounds and after an ace and three birdies on Saturday’s front nine he was closing in on the lead. Even a poor back nine didn’t take him out of it for the final round but it wasn’t to be and a T8 finish adds to his near misses.
Since his win at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, Finau has 34 top-10s without another triumph and he hasn’t finished worse than 19th in the FedExCup over the last four seasons.
Emiliano Grillo jumped out on TOUR in the 2015-16 season and won the Safeway Open first up. He would have been forgiven for thinking it was easy to do. Over the last three seasons he’s threatened a few times with four thirds and a runner up so when he took a healthy lead through 36 and 54 holes in Mexico it appeared it might be time. But while others tore up the soft layout on Sunday Grillo shot a 1-over 72 to freefall to a T8 finish.
Adam Long, who stared down Phil Mickelson to win his lone TOUR title, looked steeled when he birdied the 16th on Sunday to pull within one of the lead but his next tee shot was wild and with it went his chances of doubling his career win tally. He would settle for a T3 finish.
The bottom line? Golf is hard. Winning is very hard. Winning more than once is incredibly hard.
3. Mexico’s finest to wait at least one more year for home win
Eventually it will happen. There was great hope pre-tournament that this could be the year a Mexican winner could emerge in what has been the countries first regular TOUR stop for well over a decade now. Carlos Ortiz, a winner at the recent Vivint Houston Open, was more than solid on the way to a T8 finish that moved him up to sixth in the FedExCup standings. Abraham Ancer was left to rue a slow start with his 1-over 72 opening round but fought valiantly back to be T12. Roberto Diaz, Armando Favela, Aaron Terrazas and Isidro Benitez were unable to make the cut but all will take invaluable experience away from the week.
4. The production line appears never-ending
While we sat back and applauded Hovland’s gutsy win his fellow college teammate, and current housemate, Austin Eckroat casually finished T12 as an amateur. The Oklahoma State senior gave a glimpse into some more of the talent coming down the pipeline.
Another of those young guns, 18-year-old Akshay Bhatia, Monday qualified into the tournament and once again showed glimpses of why he’s backed himself to be professional in lieu of college. After a bogey-bogey opening on Thursday the youngster fought back to shoot 4-under and showed similar resilience to notch up three birdies late in round two after a double bogey threatened to send him home early. His end result of T52 is a little misleading as he dropped shots late Sunday firing at pins with aggressive intent.
5. We lost a legend this past week
The news of the passing of Peter Alliss, who was a highly successful European Tour player before becoming the voice of golf in the UK for decades on television, was certainly sad for the golf community. A member of eight Ryder Cup teams, Alliss won 31 times worldwide and was also an accomplished course designer and author. But perhaps his greatest contributions were with a microphone, where on the BBC in England, and the ABC in the U.S., he was arguably without peer talking viewers through the action. Take some time to read about his influence on the game here.
Source: PGA tour