WGC Workday Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
WHAT a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Viktor Hovland was winning the Puerto Rico Open for his first PGA Tour victory. His world ranking was such that he wasn’t one of the elite field taking part in the WGC Mexico Championship, staged at the same time and won by Patrick Reed.
Hovland has since won again and is ranked 14th in the world. It has been a meteoric rise for the young man from Norway, who will surely be a key member of Europe’s Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits in September.
When Hovland chipped in for a birdie on the 10th hole of his final round in Puerto Rico his lead stretched to three shots. His trademark grin was wider than ever. Expectations had been high since the day he turned professional. He had enjoyed a sensational amateur career, winning the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, being part of a victorious NCAA National Championship team at Oklahoma State, reaching world No. 1 on the amateur rankings and claiming low amateur honours at The Masters and U.S. Open.
Playing on sponsors’ invites, he made the cut in each of his first five PGA Tour starts as a pro, finishing inside the top 16 four times, including finishing a fourth place at the Wyndham Championship. His final 13 rounds of the season were all in the 60s. After narrowly missing out on earning his PGA Tour card via non-member points, he headed to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and secured his Tour card with some ease. And then, as a rookie, he extended his consecutive rounds in the 60s streak to a record 19.
Despite being just 22 at the time and in only his 17th PGA Tour start in Puerto Rico, many were asking why he hadn’t already won. After all, his college teammate Matthew Wolff had already tasted victory, as had Collin Morikawa, another young gun who would go on to land the US PGA Championship.
The fact is that winning on the PGA TOUR is not easy, as 41-year-old Josh Teater will confirm. In his 196th start, Teater was the man who was trying to catch Hovland. And in the end, it wasn’t quite so straightforward for Hovland. On the par-three 11th, he hit a poor tee shot that flared right in the wind. He then fluffed two chips in a row, and after finally finding the putting surface, missed a short putt. In the blink of an eye, he was writing a six on his card, a triple-bogey that dropped him back into a tie for the lead.
“There are so many expectations on him, which is tough, but we knew when he was just playing on exemptions he was just out there having fun and you could see that and feel that and he was playing great,” said his caddie, Shay Knight. “And then he got his card and I think started to try and fill those expectations right away and he was getting very stressed and he wasn't himself.
“So we had a chat about it and I said 'It's a long year and it is going to be a rollercoaster, so you just need to stay positive.' That's exactly what he did in Puerto Rico. His attitude was unbelievable and I think that was the real difference maker.”
Teater birdied the par-five 15th to take the lead. Knowing he needed to match it, Hovland’s approach shot came up short and right of the green in the rough. He promptly chipped in for eagle to take the lead back outright.
But Teater wasn’t done. He birdied the 17th to draw level again, then gave himself a good look at another birdie on the par-five 18th, only to see it just come up just short. It meant Hovland could win in regulation with a birdie on the 72nd hole. His wedge approach, though, was not the greatest, finding the green some 30-feet or more from the cup.
“I was just thinking about all the other putts that I've putted throughout the round and I've pretty much left every single putt short,” Hovland said. The ball hit the back of the hole with pace and disappeared. Just like that, all the expectations had been delivered on and the PGA Tour had its very first champion from Norway. He joined Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama as the last players to win at just 22 years of age.
“It's hard to deal with the expectations because they're usually a lot higher than kind of what are realistic. If you would ask me a year ago if I would have won a PGA TOUR event in my 17th start as a 22-year-old, I mean, that would be nuts,” Hovland admits.
“As you start thinking about expectations and the noise that's outside the course that's when you start to put more pressure on yourself and you can easily kind of forget who you are. Obviously, triple bogey is not what you're looking for, but I'd done a really good job this week of not getting super mad. The last few weeks I've kind of been struggling with my game a little bit and I let small mistakes really get to me a lot more and this week I've been really ice cold.
“Even after that triple-bogey I thought, 'Well, crap, that's not ideal,' but I knew that if I just played well on the back nine… if I make two or three birdies coming in, I can be right in it. When I passed 14 tee and saw the leaderboard and we were tied, I wasn't thinking about that triple-bogey at all.”
“He's an unbelievable talent who does have a good attitude as a whole and while sometimes he loses focus on that this week just shows him what a positive attitude can do,” Knight says. “It shows him, as he goes down the road, exactly what he needs to do to win golf tournaments. Champions are the ones that put mistakes behind them and come out the other side. He did that today and that is why he is holding the trophy.”
So this week Hovland will not be defending his title. Instead he will be one of the favourites at the WGC event which has been moved from Mexico and will instead be played The Concession Golf Club in Florida.
The tournament kicks off a four-week Florida Swing that also features the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and The Honda Classic.
“The PGA TOUR is grateful for its continued partnership with Grupo Salinas as we navigate the unique challenges created by the pandemic,” said Ty Votaw, PGA Tour Executive Vice President, International. “While we work towards returning to Mexico in 2022, we are appreciative of the collective effort to bring this event to a worthy venue in The Concession Golf Club, which is one of the top courses in Florida.”
The new venue is named for one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship in the game’s history. The club was designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin. Nicklaus famously conceded a two-foot putt to Jacklin on the final hole of the 1969 Ryder Cup. The gesture, known as “the concession," guaranteed the first tie in Ryder Cup history.
The United States still retained the Cup with the tie, but it would have won the cup outright if Jacklin, winner of the 1969 Open, missed the putt. “I don’t believe you would have missed, but I’d never give you the opportunity in these circumstances,” Nicklaus said to Jacklin.
The Concession was named Best New Private Course by Golf Digest when it opened in 2006. Bryson DeChambeau won the individual title in the 2015 NCAA Championship at Concession.
There will be a star-studded field in Florida, with Dustin Johnson looking to add yet another title to his CV. Rory McIlroy will lead a strong European challenge, with the likes of Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, and Matt Fitzpatrick all looking to put down markers on American soil. And there is a huge opportunity for Robert MacIntyre to prove that he really does belong is such esteemed company. Now in the top 50 in the world, the Scot will be in the field at all four majors and has a real chance to continue his meteoric rise.
“This is a monumental opportunity for The Concession to host an event at the level of a World Golf Championships and showcase the unique layout and rich history of this Club to a global audience,” said Bruce Cassidy, President of The Concession Golf Club. “With our past experience hosting high-profile events, we believe this course will provide a stern but memorable test of golf to this collection of the very best players in the world.”
The World Golf Championships will be staged without fans but will have a limited number of club members and invited guests on-site for competition days.
“The news of a World Golf Championships event coming to Concession and the Bradenton-Sarasota Area is a testament to the premier golf venues and the other area assets that set the destination apart and solidify its position among the most attractive golf destinations in the country,” said Elliott Falcione, Executive Director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This event comes on the heels of the Korn Ferry Tour, which kicks off its season the week prior across the street at Lakewood National Golf Club, making this a truly a historic time for golf in the Bradenton-Sarasota area.”
Jon Rahm. Looking to close gap on Dustin Johnson
Rory McIlroy. There have been some promising signs - but there always are
Tyrrell Hatton. Ready for a second win on American soil
Jon Rahm. Would be good to see him keep his cool for 72 holes
Rory McIlroy. Just desperate to put four good rounds together
Tyrrell Hatton. Seems to contend every time he plays now
Dustin Johnson. Another week, another good finish all but guaranteed
Viktor Hovland. Nailed on for the Ryder Cup
Matt Fitzpatrick. Brilliant short game
Justin Thomas. Not been at his brilliant best but that can’t last
Bryson DeChambeau. Can bring any course to its knees
Daniel Berger. Resurgent
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