DEFENDING CHAMP HOVLAND STRETCHES LEAD TO THREE AT THE HERO WORLD CHALLENGE -
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DEFENDING CHAMP HOVLAND STRETCHES LEAD TO THREE AT THE HERO WORLD CHALLENGE

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Khel Today Bureau

ALBANY, Bahamas: Viktor Hovland seems to be getting better as the week wears on at the Hero World Challenge. That despite him saying he was not at his best when he arrived in Albany at the start of the week.

On a day, when the weather was kinder and sun shone nice and warm, the Norwegian Hovland putted like a dream for 10 birdies in a card of 8-under 64 that has now seen his lead swell to three. From being a co-leader after 18, he went one ahead after 36 and now at 13-under holds a 3-shot advantage.

Scottie Scheffler, chasing Hovland for the title, started the day one behind and then played 6-under 66 but still found himself slipping to three behind. He was still second as he moved to 10-under knowing that a win can make him World No. 1 yet again in the year he has won four times, including at the Masters.

 

Justin Thomas overcame the conditions to shoot a bogey free 66 and was tied third with Cameron Young (68), whose front nine was 31. Young added his sixth birdie on No. 10, at which point he was 6-under for the day and leading by two. Then Young dropped a shot each on Par-5s, 11th and 15th and fell to tied third alongside Justin Thomas (66). Collin Morikawa (69) and Xander Schauffele (69) were tied fifth.

Hovland may be improving with every shot, but he still knows a 3-shot lead at Albany is not safe on a course that has five Par-5s. Only last year, his housemate Collin Morikawa lost a five-shot lead as Hovland rallied from six behind with a brilliant back nine to grab the HWC on debut.

In this third round on Saturday, Hovland was in a zone, so much so he was not sure of the number of putts he took for the round but reckoned it about 24.

As 17 of the 20 players scored par or better, the mud from the rain-soaked fairways stuck on the ball and created a lot of problems. Hovland seemed an exception till he came to the 18th; had a mud-ball and dropped a shot.

Hovland had six birdies on the back nine between 11th and 18th but finished with a bogey as he suffered a mud-ball on the 18th.  He was 8-under 64 and put himself in perfect position to join tournament host Tiger Woods as the only player to win back-to-back at the HWC. Woods did it in 2007.

Hovland had three straight birdies from 15 feet or longer on the front nine. Then came the sizzling run with six birdies in seven holes from 11th to 17th before giving back a shot on 18th.

Hovland said, “I missed probably like a 10-footer on the first hole and lipped out and I kind of thought here we go again, but after that it was a lot of putts that went in. You need that on a day like today when the winds are down, and you can be a little bit more aggressive. That’s the only way you can make that many birdies, so that was a lot of fun.

“I had a couple (mudballs), but it honestly wasn’t that bad. Feel like I kind of got lucky on that side of it. I had a slight mud ball on 18, which flew a little bit weird, but I didn’t hit the greatest of shots”, said Hovland. “I hit a lot of just good quality iron shots to give myself seven 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.”

Scheffler had a lot of mud balls, too, but still carded 5-under. The Master’s champion was visibly disappointed, saying, “Who’s good at those? You pretty much have no idea what the golf ball’s going to do. 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.” Yet he did well to stay in the hunt.

Tom Kim, one of the three players to shoot over par in the round, had a 74, and dropped to tied 12th. He was still ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (72, 14th) while Jordan Spieth (72, T-15), Matt Fitzpatrick (76, T-15) and Shane Lowry (71) were way behind.

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 and was T-19 at the bottom of the leader board.

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