The finest fortnight of Viktor Hovland’s career has boosted European hopes of reclaiming the Ryder Cup in Rome. On putting performance alone, the 25-year-old must be striking fear into previously bullish Americans.
Hovland, who shot a closing 61 to win the BMW Championship last weekend, backed up his heroics with comfortable success at the Tour Championship. A euphoric Hovland therefore took delivery of the FedEx Cup and $18m bonus as attached. The Norwegian has catapulted himself firmly into the world’s elite; which will be much to the delight of Luke Donald, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. Less than a month will pass before Hovland, Donald and the rest of the team land in Italy.
“This is for all the hard work I have done,” said Hovland. “I have played some of my best golf over the last two weeks but this still all feels pretty surreal.”
Donald explained how he walked during matches with Hovland at the last Ryder Cup. “His short game and putting let him down,” said the Englishman. “He told me he wasn’t clutch enough. Well he’s about as clutch as they come now. What a year, what a finish, what a guy.” Indeed, Hovland did not miss a single cut during 23 tournament appearances in the PGA Tour season.
Rory McIlroy, who had a close-up view of the 61 in Chicago, smiled when asked who may make an ideal partner for Hovland in the biennial joust with the US. “If someone came along to any of us on the team and said ‘We’re going to put you out with Viktor today,’ I don’t think anyone would say no,” said McIlroy. “Just put it that way. Fourballs, foursomes. It’s Viktor but it’s also Shay his caddie. They’re a great duo, great to get along with. I really enjoyed my day with him on Sunday last week when he shot the lights out. The other 11 guys on the European team I don’t think would have an issue if they went out with Viktor.”
Hovland began this handicapped event two strokes adrift of Scottie Scheffler. He closed it with a five stroke victory, having signed off with a 63. Nine of Hovland’s final round holes resulted in threes. Hovland did not drop a single shot over that 18 hole stretch, which left the rest of the 30-man field playing for second. The closest anybody got to the champion was within three. Scheffler was an astonishing 16 shots behind the winner. Hovland’s aggregate, which opened at eight under par, was minus 27.
Xander Schauffele won the race within the race. Schauffele sealed second at 22 under after a Sunday 62. This was a stunning effort but not enough to eclipse the marauding Hovland.
McIlroy, who battled a back problem all week, posted a Sunday 65 to finish fourth. This was an impressive FedEx Cup defence given there were serious doubts over whether the Northern Irishman would tee up at all. Tommy Fleetwood and Collin Morikawa tied Scheffler in sixth, with the US Open champion, Wyndham Clark, in third.