FedEx Cup Recap: Hovland Runs Away from the Field at East Lake
Viktor Hovland won the 2023 PGA TOUR Championship and FedEx Cup at East Lake Golf Club on Sunday and did it in convincing fashion. Hovland ran away from the field, posting a winning score of 27-under for the tournament and taking home the massive winner’s check of $18 million PGA Payout. For Hovland, a native of Oslo, Norway, it was his second straight victory after winning last week’s BMW Championship in Chicago. In just the last two weeks alone, Hovland has earned nearly $22 million in purse money.
Hovland started this staggered scoring, final leg of the FedEx Playoffs with a starting score of -8 which was two strokes shy of then FedEx points leader, Scottie Scheffler. The 2-stroke deficit turned out to be just a speed bump for Hovland who was 5 strokes ahead of runner-up, Xander Schauffele.
Hovland Stays Hot
There’s no debate that Hovland is now the hottest player on the PGA TOUR and figures to be a force to be reckoned with for the European team at next month’s Ryder Cup in Rome, Italy. This week at East Lake, he led the field in strokes gained: off the tee (4.814), was fifth in approach (4.730), 11th around the green (1.103), and fourth in putting (3.387).
This season and the last two weeks, in particular, go a long way toward silencing Hovland’s critics who bemoaned the shortcomings of his chipping and short game around the greens. Back in June, he won the coveted Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus by outlasting Denny McCarthy in a one-hole playoff. Since then, Hovland has played like one of the PGA TOUR’s elite and has now cemented that status with these two dominant wins.
Others Cool Off
While nobody was beating the young Norwegian this week some of the game’s biggest names turned out to be their own worst enemies. Rory McIlroy, who came into the week in search of his record-setting 4th FedEx Cup Playoffs title, injured his back in a freak slip while at home early in the week and looked to be in pain throughout the tournament.
FedEx Cup points leader and World No.1 Scottie Scheffler continued to, as he has all season, look lost with his putter and capped off his historic ball-striking season with a dud performance. Scheffler finished the PGA TOUR season first in strokes gained: total, tee-to-green, off-the-tee, approach, greens in regulation percentage, scoring average, and bogey avoidance. He also posted a 68.3 adjusted scoring average for the season which ranks as 7th best all-time. The owner of the first 6 spots on that list? Tiger Woods in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2009.
Even though Scheffler won twice and finished Top 10 in 17 of his 23 tournaments this season, one still wonders what could have been had his putter even been somewhat cooperative. His ranks of 150th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting and 134th in one-putt percentage for the season held him back from a truly legendary season.
Jon Rahm, the winner of the 2023 Masters, was the FedEx Playoff points leader for most of the season but posted a lackluster showing at East Lake. Rahm’s final round 74 was a disappointing finish to an otherwise fantastic season
Ryder Cup Tune-Up
Now that the PGA TOUR Championship and the FedEx Playoffs have concluded all eyes turn toward Rome and the Ryder Cup. The European team, outside of McIlroy’s recent back injury, appears to be in top form with several players playing at the peak of their powers.
Hovland, currently showing as the best player in the world, will likely play a central role in European captain Luke Donald’s lineup and we should see him all 3 days. Rahm ranked No. 1 in the world as recently as May, is as dangerous as anyone in golf and carries the fiery personality that the Euro side loves to feature.
On the U.S. side, team captain Zach Johnson has some tough decisions to make this week in selecting the final 6 non-automatic choices. Will Justin Thomas be selected even though he posted the worst season of his career? Will Brooks Koepka further bridge the PGA Tour-LIV Golf divide and earn a captain’s pick? You can pick them all so what big names will end up staying home?
Season in Review
The 2022-2023 PGA TOUR season was a memorable one. The golf world saw two first-time major winners (Wyndham Clark at the US Open and Brian Harman at The Open), Brooks Koepka, a member of the LIV Golf Tour, won the PGA Championship, and Jon Rahm won his first Masters. We also had the stunning news that the PGA Tour and Saudi PIF (the sponsoring body behind LIV Golf) intended to merge under one entity. Formerly struggling stars like Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, and Keegan Bradley found some of their past magic and posted phenomenal Top-30 seasons.
And to top it all off, we still get the Ryder Cup next month.
Hovland: Golf’s New Superstar
Viktor Hovland has been one of golf’s most beloved players since arriving on tour in 2019. His affable, friendly nature has made him a favorite of fans and media, alike. Now that he’s put together 3 wins in a single season and captured the PGA Tour Championship, it seems time that Hovland now be mentioned in the same breath as the Schefflers, Rahms, and McIlroys of the world.
And if his recent comments about the prize money that comes along with winning are any indication, Viktor seems far more motivated by victories and playing great golf than he is by a winner’s check PGA Payout. Said Hovland after winning the FedEx Playoffs:
“Obviously it’s a lot of cash that you’re playing for, it’s in the back of your mind; but I live in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Money goes a long way there. It’s not like I’m spending money out the wazoo every week. I don’t need a lot to be happy… It’s not something that drives me, it’s not something that gives me meaning. I find meaning in other places.”
Comments like that should serve as a wake-up call for his tour rivals as it looks like Viktor Hovland is here to stay.
November 24, 2023