Hovland, Scheffler renew Hero World Challenge battle as Woods is set to return to action -
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Hovland, Scheffler renew Hero World Challenge battle as Woods is set to return to action

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Viktor Hovland of Norway. 

V Krishnaswamy

NASSAU, Bahamas: It is hard not to install World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and two-time defending champion Viktor Hovland as the two big contenders this week at the 2023 Hero World Challenge. For the last two years they have finished 1-2 and Scheffler despite the genial smile and the time he has taken off since the Ryder Cup, must be wondering if it’s time to add HWC silver ware to his growing collection.

Scheffler seeks a first HWC title and Hovland aims to do what even the legendary host, Tiger Woods, has not done – win the event three times in a row.

Even as Scheffler and Hovland get set for another battle, Tiger Woods gets ready himself for his first competitive round as he gets into action in the first round since pulling ahead of the third round of the Masters, where he had just made a record equalling 23rd straight cut. Woods looked fine while playing the Pro-Am with Dr. Pawan Munjal, the Executive chairman of Hero MotoCorp, the Indian two-wheeler  manufacturing company which took over the title sponsorship of the event back in 2014 and have upped the purse to $ 4.5 million this year.

Scheffler has not played any golf since the Ryder Cup. He actually didn’t need to, coming off one of the most amazing seasons with a couple of wins and 17 Top-10s as he continued his reign at the top of the world rankings.

And then there is Hovland, coming off his finest year, too. Hovland has won his two most recent starts on the PGA Tour at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship and then played a major role in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory. Earlier in the year he also won the Memorial, so three of his six career PGA wins have come between June and August this year. He also had nine Top-10s in 2023 and played a big role in Europe’s Ryder Cup win.

Hovland, took three and a half weeks off after the Ryder Cup success and visited Norway, before coming to Dubai to finish T-2 at the DP World Tour Championship.

World No. 1 for 63 weeks since March 27, 2022, six weeks after his maiden PGA Tour win in Phoenix in February, 2022. He won that again in 2023 and like Hovland this week, Scheffler will have his own shot at a three-in-a-row feat when he goes to Phoenix early next year.

Scheffler does not think too much about what he has achieved over the last 20-odd months, even as he readies himself for the 2023 HWC.

He says, “I don’t know if I’m much of a reflecter. I think when the time comes for me to not be playing golf, I try not to think about it. Actually, I don’t even know if I try not to think about it, I try to immerse myself in other things.

“That’s kind of what I did. I really just felt like it was a good time for a break. I feel refreshed going into this tournament. I’m excited to be back out here and playing again. I’m excited to be back in competition mostly.”

About coming to Albany for the HWC, he gave his trademark smile, and added, “Yeah, it’s good to be back here in Albany. It’s a fun finish to the year. I mean, yeah, it’s tough not to want to come to the Bahamas this time of year. In Texas it’s pretty cold. So coming here in this nice warm weather, it’s definitely a lot of fun. Yeah, it should be another fun week.”

On his own game, he makes it very simple and says, “I think it’s good just to see where my game’s at. I wouldn’t say I’m as prepared for this event as I would be for a regular Tour event, this just being my first tournament coming back from a pretty extended break. So just looking to kind of get things running again, get my feet wet out on the course and just play some tournament golf.”

Hovland, who arrived only on Monday night and rested out Tuesday before getting a hit in the Pro-Am and the range, admits he loves the Albany Golf Club, a course designed by Ernie Els.

Hovland had said, “You’ve got to hit it straight and it blows a lot and I like playing in the wind.”

Collin Morikawa, who is once again coping with injuries despite having ended his title drought by winning Zozo CHampionships in Japan, is looking for a good week before the year ends.

Speaking of his visits to HWC, said, “I’ve actually had some really good rounds. Obviously the first year blew a big lead and that happened, and the last year came right off our wedding and just kind of probably didn’t practice for a couple weeks and figured that out. I’ve had some good rounds out here and that’s kind of good momentum.

“It’s a fun week. We’re in the Bahamas, you’re having a very relaxed attitude, mindset, but you still want to win and kind of cap off these last couple months on a good note.”

Asked how good it felt to win again, he beamed and replied quickly, “Does it feel good to win? There’s no better feeling than knowing that the pieces you’re putting together, and to be honest, I don’t think the pieces I had were going to really make a winning formula. I had to make a couple changes, kind of figure out a few things.

It was nice to see the same, similar shots and have the same misses I had in the past. So winning is winning and there’s no better feeling, and hopefully there’s more in my future. It was nice to get that back, and you guys don’t keep asking me about when I’m going to win, so thank you.”

Even as he makes his way back weaving past injuries, he is trying to understand why they happened. He said, “Yeah, we knew why it happened three months ago. And not that we did the same thing, but just trying to push certain limits here and there. To be honest, I almost have to take not one step back or two steps back with this, I have to take 10 steps back and start as if I was a baby just reprogramming how my body works.”

Yes, he is housing with Hovland once again. Morikawa revealed, “I gave him the master bedroom this year. I had the master bedroom the past two years and that hasn’t worked out for me, but it has for him.

So I decided, and I texted him yesterday to make sure he was taking the master bedroom. We showed up at like 3:00 a.m., so it was nice to find my little guest room in the corner. He’s got everything he needs.

This will be the last year, though. If he wins this, this will be the last year. I am going to find someone else to stay with. Something has to change, something has to give.”

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