NASSAU, Bahamas: The warm sun in the Bahamas brought out plenty of mud on the rain-soaked fairways and created some wild shots for just about everyone but Viktor Hovland. He made 10 birdies Saturday to build a three-shot lead in the Hero World Challenge.
Hovland ran off six birdies on the back nine at Albany and finished with a bogey from a mud-shot on the 18th for an 8-under 64, putting him in position to join tournament host Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of this tournament.
“I hit a lot of just good quality iron shots to give myself 7 to 12 feet. It wasn’t like I hit one just incredible shot and stuff it or make it like I did the other days, but it was just kind of consistently giving myself looks,” Hovland said.
He was at 13-under 203, and he made it look easy. It wasn’t that way for the rest of the 20-man field, even with some of the best scoring of the week.
Scottie Scheffler, who can go to No. 1 in the world with a win, dropped only one shot and had an eagle on the par-5 15th for a 66 that put him in the final group with Hovland. It was a good day on his card. It was tough on the emotions seeing so much mud on his ball that he had no idea where it was going.
“Who’s good at those? You pretty much have no idea what the golf ball’s going to do,” Scheffler said. “It’s not something that I would practice at home just because it’s not something that I believe should happen on the golf course.”
The Masters champion’s best work was not so much his five birdies and his eagle, rather not letting the mud balls get in his head.
Everyone had to deal with it, some worse than others. Justin Thomas figures the one guy who caught a break was PGA Tour official Rick Wild, who records all the scores at the end of the day. Good thing it’s a small field.
“Only 20 people coming in and complaining versus 120. I think that’s probably a little easier on him,” Thomas said. “It’s unfortunate. And you can get some really, really unlucky breaks and unfortunate situations. But like I said, everybody has to deal with it and the more you let it get to you, probably the worse off you are.”
Thomas was bogey-free for a 66, tied for third with Cameron Young (68).
Young, the PGA Tour rookie of the year, handled his misfortune well. With a 31 on the front nine and his sixth birdie of the round on No. 10, he was leading by two and in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 11th.
He went to lay up with a 4-iron and saw the ball shoot straight out to the right and into the bush, leading to a penalty shot before playing the next one and making bogey. He had another bogey on a par 5 and had to settle for a 68, leaving him five shots behind.
“The one that really hurt me was on 11,” Young said. “I feel like I made a pretty good swing and it was into the weeds. It just takes a mediocre shot there to give yourself a pretty good look at birdie. So that definitely, definitely hurt. Yeah, there were a few.”
Kevin Kisner had a hole-in-one on the 12th hole with a 6-iron, the lone bright spot on a day when he shot 77.
“I was putting probably the worst of my career today so I decided just to make it from 189 yards,” Kisner said. “But it was a lot easier on par 3s because you got to hit a clean golf ball.”
Because a majority of the course was in reasonable shape, the PGA Tour decided to play the ball down. Officials were concerned about four or five fairways, but the mud made its presence felt from fairways that were deluged with rain on Wednesday.
Hovland carded three straight birdies early on the front nine, all from 15 feet or longer, and then he really took off on the back nine. He twice two-putted for birdie. He hit 6-iron to 12 feet on the par-3 12th, hit 9-iron to 7 feet on the next hole and then got some separation with an 8-iron to 15 feet on the 16th and a 7-iron to 8 feet on the par-3 17th.
“He played so good I almost felt bad about my round,” Xander Schauffele said after a 69 left him six back. “It was clean. It was so good I didn’t even realize what he was doing until he got to the end.”
Woods won the World Challenge in 2006 and 2007 when it was at Sherwood Country Club in California. He is not playing this week because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot that caused him to withdraw on Monday.