Viktor Hovland pulled off the rare feat of defending his Hero World Challenge title at Albany in the Bahamas on Sunday, December 4, making him only the second in the 22-year history of the limited-field, by-invitation-only golf tournament that is hosted annually by Tiger Woods.
The last one to successfully back-to-back titles at the World Challenge was Tiger himself, in 2006 and 2007.
There was more excitement than was strictly necessary as the 25-year-old from Oslo chased down his fifth PGA Tour win. Having taken a three-shot lead on Moving Day (Saturday) into the final 18 holes, Hovland saw his lead shrink to just one as he was given a hot chase by former world number one Sepp Straka of the United States.
There was plenty on the line for America as well at the Albany Championship Course. Victory on Sunday would have seen him reclaim the top spot in the world rankings from Rory McIlroy, besides making up for the disappointment of 2021 at the same venue when he finished behind Hovland.
And he came mighty close, twice. On the front nine, a run of four birdies took him to within a shot of the leader, only for Hovland to pull away and not look back thereafter. However, he did give Scheffler an opening on the last home with a precariously placed second shot that went into the water while leading by two strokes.
Hovland bogeyed, and Scheffler, needing a birdie to trigger a title playoff, could only manage a bogey himself, leaving his Norwegian rival looking mighty relieved after dropping a 24-foot putt to put the matter beyond Scheffler’s reach.
“It was frigging nerve-wracking,” a smiling Hovland said later. “You're never that comfortable. I didn't play that great on the back nine, but it was good enough. It was a lot more stressful than it should have been.
“I hit plenty of terrible shots today. It’s making those putts and keeping yourself in it.”
It capped an indifferent year for Hovland, who rose to ninth in the world with the win.
“There were too many weeks where I just had to grind and get through the round instead of showing up and attacking and feel like I was going to shoot 7, 8 under. It was just too many times where it was, OK, if I play well, maybe I can shoot a couple under.
“That's been a little frustrating. I feel like I still have some work to do there, but this is obviously a huge step in the right direction.”
Young Korean Joohyung ‘Tom’ Kim impressed briefly with the shared first day lead but fell away thereafter, unable to handle the strong winds that sweep across the seaside Albany course on most days. Still, a shared tenth place – two behind fellow debutant and fellow Korean Sungae Im – will please the Panasonic Open India 2019 champion.
PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young finished in third place, his best result worldwide since finishing runner-up in back-to-back starts at the 2022 Open Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic, while for Justin Thomas, it was a third consecutive fifth place finish at the Hero World Challenge.
Viktor Hovland 69-70-64-69, 272 (-16)
Scottie Scheffler 72-68-66-68, 274 (-14)
Cameron Young 71-69-68-68, 276 (-12)
Xander Schauffele 72-68-69-68, 277 (-11)
Justin Thomas 72-70-66-70, 278 (-10)
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