The final putt is usually the image we remember from a victory, especially when it’s a must-make for birdie. Viktor Hovland now has two of those on his PGA Tour résumé, the first coming last February in Puerto Rico, the second coming on Sunday in Mexico. Two birdie putts, two winning fist pumps, two huge smiles from the former U.S. Amateur winner. Those are the two images we’ll remember from the 23-year-old Norwegian’s first two tour wins.
But on this Sunday at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, the far more important moment for Hovland came at the par-4 16th. With Aaron Wise having already chased him down en route to a closing 63, Hovland could not afford to drop a shot. That appeared to be exactly what was going to happen at 16, where Hovland badly blocked his approach into the bunker right of the green.
Despite him “sucking” at chipping (his words, not ours), Hovland was able to splash one to about seven feet, then poured in the par putt. That kept him in a tie for the lead at 19 under, and he was able to finish par-birdie to win for the second time in 2020. Under intense pressure, Hovland came up with his best stuff.
If Hovland admitting he sucks at chipping last February wasn’t brutally honest enough, he was even more blunt after the final putt dropped in Mexico. If he looked comfortable out there as he shot a closing 65, allow him to assure you that he most certainly was not.
“I don’t really feel like I’m good at those pressure situations, honestly,” Hovland said. “I was shaking there in the end. I thought I lost it after the second shot on 16. Made an awesome par there, missed a putt on 17 and knew I had to make birdie on 18, and it just happened to go in. Yeah, don’t feel comfortable in those moments at all.”
All evidence is pointing to the contrary so far in his young career. He was absolutely locked in when he won the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in 2018, then made a bomb of a putt on the 72nd hole in Puerto Rico for his first pro win. Down the stretch Sunday, he executed every shot that was required to win, including the tournament-winning putt, a right-to-left 10 footer to seal the deal.
“Obviously there is a lot of up and down in your body that you’re feeling, but my golf was very steady today,” Hovland said, finally giving himself some credit. “It could have been a lot more stressful.”
With the win, Hovland ended one of the strangest curses in professional golf. Prior to Sunday, no former winner of the Puerto Rico Open had gone on to win another PGA Tour event. Based off his amateur résumé, Hovland figured to be the guy who eventually would put that one to bed. Next up: Tony Finau.
Here are three other takeaways from Sunday at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
It’s easy to forget about guys like Aaron Wise
With the number of young players currently playing well on tour right now, it’s so easy to forget about a guy like Aaron Wise. He’s only 24 and he already has a PGA Tour win (2018 AT&T Byron Nelson), but a quiet 2019-’20 caused him to fade out of the picture. Sunday’s 63, which earned him solo second, was a nice reminder that this former NCAA individual champion has a ton of game, and is deserving of mention among the Hovlands, Morikawas and Wolffs of the sport right now.
Billy Horschel should win in 2021
The problem with declarations like this is you could say it about so many guys right now. Harris English, Kevin Kisner, Abraham Ancer, Tony Finau, etc., etc., etc. They all can and should win in 2021, but nothing in this sport is guaranteed no matter how many top 10s you’ve had in your last 10 starts. There are so many good players and not enough wins to go ’round.
That being said, we’d be stunned if Billy Horschel doesn’t pick up a sixth career win in 2021, and what would be his first since the 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a team event he grabbed with Scott Piercy. Horschel, who shot 65-64 this weekend to tie for fifth, has now finished T-7 or better three times since the restart, including a runner-up at the Wyndham, where it looked like he had it in the bag until Jim Herman came out of nowhere. As long as he keeps putting himself there, he’ll eventually pick one off again to end an almost three-year drought.
Back-to-back brutal back nines killed Tony Finau’s chances
We said yesterday that we hoped to see some killer instinct from Tony Finau on Sunday, and we did early. For the second straight round, he went out in five-under 31, appearing poised to take charge.
Then, for the second straight day, he fell apart on the way home. On Saturday it was a birdie-free 38 that put him five shots back heading into Sunday. After essentially erasing that deficit with his final-round front nine, he played the back in one over, bogeying the 16th and 17th holes when he had a chance to make a serious late push. Finau is too nice of a guy to pile on, but this is becoming an alarming trend. He’s the king of the top 10, a great way to get very rich on tour, but you are judged on how many wins you have. Finau, 31, is still stuck on one. Though, now that the Puerto Rico Open curse is officially broken, maybe the door will open for him.