Housemates Hovland and Morikawa share Hero World Challenge lead with debutants Kim and Straka -
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Housemates Hovland and Morikawa share Hero World Challenge lead with debutants Kim and Straka

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Khel Today Bureau

Nassau, Bahamas: It could not have been a more interesting group of four at the top of the leaderboard after the first day of the Hero World Challenge. Two close friends, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa, who have shared the house during the event in Bahamas the last two years, also shared the lead along with two newcomers, Tom Kim and Sepp Straka. They all shot 3-under 69 each, but only Kim was bogey free. Straka got into the field on Monday after Woods pulled out due to his foot injury.

Sam Burns, who was third last year, was sole fifth at 70, while Cameron Young, Tommy Fleetwood and Max Homa were tied sixth with rounds of 71 each. Four others, Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele  carded even par 72 to be tied ninth.

 

Hovland, whose lone win in 2022 came on the DP World Tour in Dubai in January 2022, has a chance to become the first player to win back-to-back at the event since Tiger Woods did so in 2007. Hovland has never held or co-lead after 18 holes on the PGA Tour and no player has won the Hero Challenge after leading or co-leading the HWC since the event moved to Albany in 2015. A win would also make it a fourth straight European success at the HWC after Jon Rahm (2018), Henrik Stenson (2019) and Hovland himself in 2021.

The course may have five Par-5s, but Hovland is enjoying the Par-14th, which he eagled in the first round. That comes on top of three eagles at the 14th  in four rounds last year.

He says, “I like drivable holes because when I’m hitting my driver well, I feel like I can be pretty aggressive. And that green obviously is not the biggest green, but with how soft it is, if you land it on the green, you can keep it on the green… Obviously, you’re not supposed to make four out of five eagles there.”

Morikawa, who let go off a five-shot lead on the final day last year, also got engaged at the venue last year. Now he is back after getting married.

He loves that feeling. He said, “Yeah, I mean, getting engaged last year, coming back as a married man, it really does. It’s obviously a beautiful location to be in the Bahamas beginning of December and obviously to end this season hopefully on a good note. 2022’s been a weird year for me, golf-wise it’s been a weird year, but hopefully we can kind of turn that around and slowly start to see some things towards the end of the year.”

Kim seems to be getting closer to officially getting a ‘dream’ hand shake from his idol Tiger Woods. He said, “Well, the first time I actually met him was at the 2020 PGA Championship. I got in the field at Harding Park and I took a picture with him. Obviously the COVID year, so there were no fans to witness it, but it was the first time I got to kind of meet him and take a picture but never really got to talk to him.”

This week he got to meet him at the fun event, Hero Shot.  But if he wins on Sunday, he will get a proper handshake in front of TV cameras and the Trophy from Woods.

Kim put on a great short game display even as he had pars on his first 10 holes and then birdied 11th, 14th and 18th.

Straka was not even in the field when  the week began. He was due to play a friendly Ryder Cup style game back home, when the call came. He said, “Yeah. I found out Monday around lunchtime. I was about to play some golf back in Birmingham, we’ve got like a little Ryder Cup-style event that we play just amongst the pros over there and that was supposed to be Tuesday-Wednesday of this week. We were about to tee off for a practice round and I got the call so I had to change my schedule up.”

Straka is the only player to have never played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup at Albany. Now No. 29 in the world and a winner for the first time at The Honda Classic, earlier in the year. Straka, the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour, is also missing his fellow pro, J.T. Poston’s wedding on Friday. That was unfortunate but he understood. It was a huge opportunity and just awesome to be here.” He is also missing a NFL game with Dawgs playing at the SEC in Atlanta on Saturday.

Cameron Young, the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, shot 71 and was among only eight players who broke par. He birdied three Par-3s and almost aced the 17th.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, a runner-up at the Hero World Challenge last year, had a 72. He needs to win to get back to No. 1 in the world.

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