Long seen as a rising star on the PGA Tour, Viktor Hovland has officially arrived.
Hovland ran away with the Tour Championship and lifted the FedEx Cup trophy for the first time in his young career on Sunday evening in Atlanta.
The Norwegian entered the day with a six-shot advantage over Xander Schauffele and never let that margin become smaller than three. Hovland turned in a final-round 63 at East Lake Golf Club to finish at 27 under, while Schauffele fired an eight-under-par 62 — the lowest round of the day — but landed at 22 under for the week.
Hovland, 25, won the PGA Tour’s season-long points race and won $18 million in the process. He shot a final-round 61 last week to win the second leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the BMW Championship, which vaulted him to second place (eight under) to start the Tour Championship.
Jordan Spieth (2015) and Justin Thomas (2017) are the only players younger than Hovland to win the FedEx Cup.
“I feel like I’ve taken a lot of steps this season,” Hovland said. “Contending in more major championships, I finally won in the U.S., I won a big tournament, Jack’s event (the Memorial Tournament), and honestly, after that I felt like I’ve gotten so much better and it was very pleasing to see.
“And then, obviously, the last couple weeks have just superseded that.”
Hovland and Schauffele each birdied four of their first six holes on Sunday to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Schauffele found an even higher gear, making putts of 11, 18 and 12 feet for three more birdies at Nos. 8, 11 and 12 to close the gap.
But Hovland held his ground by saving par for nine straight holes. The most critical may have been at the par-four 14th, when Schauffele was already in with a 4 and Hovland sank a curling, right-to-left par putt from 23 feet out.
“I think I was 4 under through six, and even then Xander just kept pouring it on and suddenly after I missed those couple of short birdie putts on the back nine, early on the back nine, suddenly the lead was at three, and if I miss that putt on 14, it’s suddenly two,” Hovland said.
“So what (Schauffele) was doing today was very special. Certainly it made this day a lot more stressful than I felt like it should have been after that start.”
Hovland slammed the door with birdies at Nos. 16, 17 and 18, and Schauffele’s reservoir of birdies ran out until the 18th.
Schauffele recorded his 28th consecutive round of par or better at East Lake, but it wasn’t enough to help him overtake the entire field. He began the week seven shots off the pace at three under.
“I’ll hold my head up high,” Schauffele said. “It was the most fun I had losing in quite some time. It’s such a weird feeling. I shot 62. I lost by five. Just kudos to Havi.”
The final pairing was playing the par-3 second hole when the horn sounded to signal a weather delay. Lightning strikes were in the vicinity of the course, and a downpour of rain soon arrived as well.
After a delay of one hour and 53 minutes, Hovland and Schauffele returned to the hole and Hovland saved par from 16 feet.
“(Schauffele) had birdied the first hole as well, and he had a nice opportunity on No. 2,” the Oklahoma State product said. “So I was thinking, ‘OK, yeah, I have a six-shot lead, but if I miss my putt and he makes his, now it’s suddenly four and it’s a ball game.’ So that was a huge putt to kind of come back from the break and make that immediately and maintain that six-shot lead.”
U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark shot a 65 to finish third at 16 under and win $5 million.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, last year’s FedEx Cup champ, birdied five of his final seven holes to post a 65 and place fourth at 14 under. Patrick Cantlay (66) was fifth at 13 under.
The season will resume with the “FedEx Cup Fall” series, starting September 14-17 at the Fortinet Championship in Napa, Calif. But the big event of the fall is the Ryder Cup, scheduled for September 29-October 1 in Rome. Players like Schauffele, Hovland and McIlroy have already earned spots on their respective teams.
“The other 11 guys on the European team I don’t think would have an issue if they went out with Viktor,” McIlroy said.
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