Defending champion Viktor Hovland fired an eagle and four birdies in a two-under-par 70 on Friday to take a one-shot lead in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
Norway’s Hovland, trying to join tournament host Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of the unofficial, 20-player event, highlighted his round with a hole out for eagle at the par-five sixth.
He had shaken off two early bogeys with a birdie at the 5th and added three birdies in a row at the 13th, 14th and 15th to give himself a five-under total of 139 through 36 holes.
He was one stroke clear of an imposing quartet of world No 2 Scottie Scheffler, Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele, two-time Major winner Collin Morikawa and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young.
Hovland said the gusty winds made for an unpredictable day on every part of the Albany course.
“You’re grinding on three-footers,” he said. “It’s windy and it’s grainy, and the greens are fast so it’s not like you can just ram the putts in, you’ve got to actually kind of die the putts in and that’s when the wind can hit it a little bit harder.
“Some of the shots you might be short-sided, but you’re into the wind so that makes certain shots easier, but at the same time you could have a basic up-and-down chip shot but straight downwind, you just don’t know exactly how it’s going to check and how much it’s going to release depending on the wind gusts.”
That might have contributed to his feeling of unease, with Hovland saying he didn’t feel comfortable over the ball.
“But the ball’s going straight, and I’m giving myself looks,” he said.
He jump-started his round with his eagle at the 6th, despite a second shot that left him a “little weird lie” in the right rough.
“The wind was off the right so it wasn’t that comfortable of a shot,” he said. “I basically aimed it 30 feet right of the pin and I hit like a 50-degree just trying to hit it as low as possible to try to get under the wind.
“I saw it spinning at the end a little bit and I yelled ‘go’ and yeah, just slam dunked right in.”
The low rounds of the day, four-under-par 68, belonged to Schauffele and Scheffler. Young joined the group sharing second with a 69 and Morikawa carded a 71.
Scheffler, who could overtake Rory McIlroy atop the world rankings with a victory, said that’s a goal, even though McIlroy, who isn’t playing this week, would be projected to regain the top spot before the end of the year.
“I don’t like being No 2, I don’t like finishing second,” Scheffler said. “No 1 is obviously a place I’d like to get back to, but if we’re not playing golf for a while, who knows what the world rankings are going to do.
“It’s definitely something nice to go back to, but I’m not going to be thinking about it when I’m on the golf course.
© Agence France-Presse