OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois: Viktor Hovland kept hitting every shot just the way he wanted on the back nine at Olympia Fields. Rory McIlroy was keeping his card and kept writing “3” in just about every box.
Hovland delivered the best round of his career at just the right time Sunday, turning a two-man race into a one-man show by breaking the course record with a 9-under 61 to surge past Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick and win the BMW Championship.
The previous mark of 62 had been set twice this week on the rain-softened North course, by Sam Burns and Max Homa the previous two days. Hovland was so close to perfection that he birdied all but two holes on the back nine.
“When I made the putt on 15 for birdie, I felt like, ‘OK, we’ve got a chance now if I can finish pretty well,’” Hovland said. “Then you never know what’s going to happen behind you. ... Until then, I had no idea what was going on. I was just going to try to play well and keep making birdies.”
What happened behind him was nothing special. Scheffler holed enough putts to lead by two at one point, but he missed the ones that really mattered — 6 feet for birdie on the par-3 16th to stay with Hovland, and then a three-putt from 20 feet on the 17th for bogey.
Fitzpatrick had an eight-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 1 over, and then two birdies late at least kept him in the game. He and Scheffler each closed with 66 to share second place and leave Chicago feeling helpless.
“Can’t do anything about 61. I did just see Viktor — I called him a little (expletive),” Fitzpatrick said with a grin. “But for me, just really pleased again that I played really well, final round in contention with world No. 1, and I didn’t lose it. Someone else came from behind and won it.”
Even on soft turf, Scheffler was mystified by the low scores and could only applaud Hovland, especially on a Sunday. It was the lowest closing round by a PGA Tour winner this year, and a career-best for the 25-year-old Norwegian star.
“I’m just a bit frustrated. I think that would be the way to describe it,” Scheffler said. “Viktor went out and really just beat me today and played a fantastic round. I can hold my head high. I did my best out there today and fought hard. Just ultimately came up a couple shots short.”
Hovland won for the second time this year and never looked better doing it.
He only had one putt longer than 15 feet on the back nine. He closed with birdies on the 17th and 18th, the two hardest holes, finishing with a pitching wedge from 158 yards over the bunker to 6 feet on the 18th for one last birdie.
“That has to be the best round I’ve ever played,” Hovland said. “Given the circumstances — a playoff event, this golf course — the way I played the last holes was pretty special.”
Turns out the drama came from everywhere else.
Jordan Spieth bogeyed his last two holes for a 71 and was on the verge of falling out of the top 30 in the FedEx Cup who make it to East Lake next week for the Tour Championship. But then Denny McCarthy made three bogeys over his last seven holes to fall out.
The cruelest of all was Sahith Theegala. He ran off three straight birdies through the 17th hole and was projected to be in the top 30. But he took bogey on the last hole, while Patrick Cantlay in his group made birdie. They tied for 15th, and that bogey-birdie combination was enough to end Theegala’s season.
Sepp Straka wound up getting the 30th spot by nine points over Theegala.
Xander Schauffele did enough right in his round of 68 to tie for eighth, earning enough money to narrowly earn the sixth and final automatic spot on the US Ryder Cup team. Schauffele was certain to get one of the six captain’s picks, but his finish moved PGA champion Brooks Koepka from No. 5 to No. 7 in the Ryder Cup standings.
US captain Zach Johnson makes his six picks in nine days.
Scheffler had six birdies and never fell out of the lead until late in the day, though he was haunted by three putts from 6 feet or closer than he missed over the final eight holes.
Scheffler, in a small consolation, is the No. 1 seed at East Lake for the the second straight year. That means he starts the tournament at 10-under par, two shots ahead of Hovland.
McIlroy, who shot 66 and finished fourth at the BMW Championship, is the No. 3 seed, followed by Jon Rahm and Lucas Glover.
“I felt like I played very average out there next to Viktor. He played amazing,” McIlroy said. “I was marking his card in there and I’m like, ‘Oh, you only made one 4 on the back nine, the rest 3s.’ It adds up to a nice little 28 for him.
“I sort of realized around like 14, 15, something pretty special was happening.”
For all the FedEx Cup possibilities that played out over some six hours Sunday, Fitzpatrick was the only player who worked his way into the top 30 who head to Atlanta for a shot at the $18 million bonus. He started at No. 40 and moved up to No. 10.