Defending champion Viktor Hovland used a string of three straight birdies to eke ahead of the pack and take the second-round lead at the Hero World Challenge on Friday in Albany, Bahamas.
The Norwegian’s two-under 70 brought him to five under for the event, one shot better than Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Young and Collin Morikawa.
Ireland’s Shane Lowry’s dropped to share of last position in the 20-player tournament after he carded a five-over 77 that included a triple-bogey eight on the par-five sixth hole where he twice had to take penalty drops.
Hovland’s round featured a slam-dunk eagle on the same hole, but it was the three consecutive birdies from the 13th that brought him as low as six under, before a late bogey dropped him back to five under.
Hovland, ranked12th in the world, won last year’s Hero World Challenge at 18 under for the week. The course is playing much more difficult this year in the wind.
“You’re grinding on three-footers,” Hovland 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.”
Hovland hit his third shot at the sixth hole from the first cut of rough about 84 yards from the pin. His shot plunked right in the hole without a bounce or roll.
“Hit a nice drive off the tee and kind of necked my second shot with a three-wood out to the right in the right rough and kind of had a little weird lie on the upslope,” Hovland said. “I had 77 metres and 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. And I saw it spinning at the end a little bit and I yelled ‘Go!’ and yeah, just slam-dunked right in.
“That was the first time I’ve done that.”
World No 2 Scheffler and No 6 Schauffele each shot a four-under 68. While Schauffele had five birdies and just one bogey, Scheffler had six birdies – four on the back nine – and two bogeys.
Scheffler could overtake Rory McIlroy for world No 1 with a win this week.
“I haven’t really been No 2 for a while, so I feel like if I continue to play great and win some events I’ll get back there, but it’s not going to be something that I’ll keep in the front of my mind,” Scheffler said. “It’s not something I think about when I’m practising, it’s not something that occupies a lot of my thoughts. It’s nice to be No 1.”
Meanwhile, Portmarnock golfer Conor Purcell continued his strong showing at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Saturday after a four-under 66 at Victoria Golf Club moved the 25-year-old into a share of fifth position behind leader Adam Scott.
Purcell made five birdies and a single bogey in his third round to move to six under going into the final round, five shots off the pace set by Scott, who curled in an eagle putt on the 18th hole to snatch a one-stroke lead from Poland’s Adrian Meronk to boost his chances of a second Stonehaven Cup.
South Korea’s Shin Jiyai led the women’s component of the inaugural dual gender event by a stroke from British Open champion Ashleigh Buhai, the compact South Korean taking charge with a front nine birdie blitz at Victoria Golf Club.
On a hot and slow day on Melbourne’s ‘Sandbelt’, former world number one Scott dropped his share of the overnight lead during a barren front nine but leapfrogged Meronk on the last hole in his three-under 67.
“It’s a good way to finish,” said Scott. “But you’ve got to be careful around the ‘Sandbelt’. I played pretty safe.”
Meronk had earlier shot a brilliant seven-under 63 to set up a Sunday showdown with his idol.
“He’s been my role model since I was a child, so that would be also a dream come true for me to play with him,” said the rangy 29-year-old.
Home duo Haydn Barron and Min Woo Lee were joint third, four shots behind Scott on seven-under.
Tempers flared in the heat as more than 160 players clogged up the course, leading to marathon rounds and long waits at tees.
“This is what happens when you have so many people out on the course,” said Australian number three Lucas Herbert, who was eight shots behind Scott after shooting 67.
“It’s hard when it’s stop-start and you don’t feel like you can get that rhythm.”
Scott also endured frustration, starting his round with eight successive pars and a bogey.
He finally had a tap-in birdie on the 12th when he thrashed a sublime second shot out of the rough to within inches of the pin.
After flirting with the first cut on Friday, British Open champion Cameron Smith bowed out with a 69, his one-over total shy of the ruthless second cut line. Only the top 30 and ties play on Sunday.
Smith had gone to the pub on Friday thinking his tournament was over, but then found he had snuck in under the cut and had to come back the next day.
“[I] was probably a few too many beers deep and then I realised we had an early tee time, so I got back on the waters and was a good boy the rest of the night,” he told reporters.
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