Since the days where you’d be lucky to get 1/1 odds on Tiger Woods in an event he had previously taken, defending a championship has been surprisingly rare on the PGA Tour.
However, “rare” looked easy on Sunday in Playa del Carmen Mexico, as 24-year-old Norwegian star Viktor Hovland won his second straight World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, this time by a comfortable four strokes over Mexico native Carlos Ortiz.
Hovland became the 14-year-old tournament’s first back-to-back champion, and also became the first player on tour to successfully defend a title anywhere since Brooks Koepka won his second consecutive PGA Championship in May of 2019.
Coming into the week 17th in the Official World Golf Rankings, Hovland was the fifth highest-ranked player in the talented field. He looked incredibly comfortable the entire week, finishing at least 4-under-par in each of his four rounds, and his 23-under-par final score was the lowest in tournament history. It was the third victory of his three-year PGA Tour career (57 starts).
The winner of last year’s event by one stroke over young American Aaron Wise, Hovland had to battle adversity at the beginning of the week. Before the tournament, he had lent his driver to fellow golfer Danny Lee for some speed training. Lee accidently snapped the driver, a potentially significant development considering Hovland ranked 5th on Tour last season in strokes gained: off-the-tee. James Hahn allowed Hovland to borrow one of his backup drivers, which was a similar model, but shorter.
The new driver did not hinder Hovland at all, and in fact, he finished tied for fourth in the field in driving accuracy. He said that while he had to sacrifice some distance, he felt the new club gave him more control, and remarked that he might use a shorter driver again depending on the course. He even joked (we think) on the final hole that he would give Hahn ten-percent of his winner’s check.
Hovland propelled to the top of the leaderboard after a 9-under 62 in the third round, the second-lowest round of the week, beaten only by the 61 shot in round 1 by Matthew Wolff. With 18 holes to go, Hovland had a two-stroke lead over Talor Gooch, an American looking for his first career Tour victory, and three strokes over 14-time Tour winner Justin Thomas.
Gooch got within one of Hovland when he birdied the par-3 4th hole, but that was the closest anyone else would get to the lead. Gooch bogeyed both 5 and 6, while Hovland birdied 5 and added two additional birdies on 7 and 9 to turn in 3-under par.
When Hovland birdied 11, his lead over Gooch and Thomas rode to six. Neither of those two would push him on the back nine, with the closest thing to a contender being Ortiz, who rode a highly-supportive crowd to a late tear, carding birdies on Nos. 12, 13, 14, and 15. That last birdie, combined with a bogey from Hovland on 15, cut the lead to three with three holes to go. Both Hovland and Ortiz finished par-birdie-par, and Hovland was able to play the final hole with essentially zero pressure, nearly holing a birdie putt from 20 feet away before a short par putt sealed the deal. His final round was a 4-under 67, the same score he opened the week with.
With a 2-under 69, Thomas finished solo-third, his best finish since he won THE PLAYERS Championship last March. Gooch, meanwhile, succumbed to the final-pairing pressure, closing with a disappointing double bogey and shooting a 3-over 74 that was worse than anyone who finished in the top 60. He was one of just ten players out of 70 to shoot over par in the final round.
World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Viktor Hovland -23 (-4)
2. Carlos Ortiz -19 (-5)
3. Justin Thomas -18 (-2)
4. Scottie Scheffler -17 (-1)
5. Matthew Wolff -16 (-6)
5. Joaquin Niemann -16 (-5)
7. Danny Lee -15 (-7)
7. Abraham Ancer -15 (-6)
7. Andrew Landry -15 (-3)
7. Sergio Garcia -15 (-2)
11. Maverick McNealy -14 (-7)
15. Aaron Wise -13 (-1)
22. Matt Kuchar -12 (-2)
33. Billy Horschel -10 (E)
40. Rickie Fowler -9 (-3)
40. Justin Rose -9 (-1)
40. Tyrrell Hatton -9 (+1)
45. Tony Finau -8 (-1)
56. Patrick Reed -7 (-2)
64. Matt Fitzpatrick -6 (+2)
How Viktor Hovland Won The World Wide Technology Championship
Hovland opened with a 67 but found himself six strokes back of Matthew Wolff, who fired a course-record 10-under 61. However, a late Friday stumble by Wolff, combined with Hovland’s 6-under 65 on day two cut that lead in half.
When Wolff went 3-over par (74) on moving day, Hovland’s 9-under 62, suddenly put him nine up on Wolff and two ahead of Talor Gooch, who shot 63 on Saturday.
For the week, Hovland’s 28 birdies led the field, and he only lost strokes from three bogeys, which ranked fifth, and one double-bogey off a bad break on the first hole on Friday. He hit 41 of 56 fairways for the week (73%), and his 55/72 (76%) of greens in regulation tied for 7th in the field.
The 24-year-old’s short game has been his Achilles heel the past two years, but he described his putting for the week as “awesome.”
Hovland’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 298.4 yards (8th)
Fairways: 73.2% (41/56) (T2)
Greens: 76.4% (55/72) (T5)
Putts/GIR: 1.582 (4th)
Birdies: 28 (1st)
Scores: 28 Birdies, 40 Pars, 2 Bogeys, 1 Double
What the Win Means For Hovland
Hovland was nowhere near a surprise winner this week. In addition to being the tournament’s defending champion, he is coming off a 2020-21 season where he missed just one cut in 24 starts, with seven top-10s among 14 top-25s. He also finished runner-up in two events, and was third in two others.
It had been a little more difficult for Hovland since the new season began, however. He made his Ryder Cup debut in September, but despite playing in all five sessions, he managed just one point for the losing European side, which came off two tied matches. The half-point he gave up to Collin Morikawa in Sunday singles ended up being the deciding point for the Americans.
In two starts in the new season, he had a T44 at the Shriners Children’s Open and a T18 at THE CJ CUP @ Sherwood. Momentum is now clearly back on his side.
With the victory, Hovland tied his previous best ranking of 10th in the OWGR and he moved to fourth in the FedExCup standings. He will be a popular pick to win his first major in this season, although he will have to wait five months for his next chance.
Hovland’s 2022 Season
Cuts Made: 3
Wins: 1 (Mayakoba)
Additional Top 10: 0
Earnings: $1,435,781 (5th)
FedExCup Pts: 554 (4th)
World Rank Before/After: 17th/10th
Sunday’s Stars at Mayakoba
Danny Lee might consider himself fortunate that the Golf Gods did not punish him for his accidental breaking of Hovland’s putter.
The New Zealander went on a midround tear on Sunday, opening his back nine with three consecutive birdies followed by an eagle to shoot a 7-under 64 that jumped him 30 spots from T37 to T7.
It was a second top-10 in two weeks for Lee, who finished T2 in Bermuda a week ago, a considerable improvement given that he failed to record a single top 10 in 24 starts last season. He only made the cut in nine of those 24 starts and finished a career-worst 183rd in the final FedExCup standings.
The only man to go lower than Lee on Sunday was the relatively unknown Andrew Novak, who carded 10 birdies and shot an 8-under 63. He rose a field-high 44 spots up the final leaderboard from 66th to T22.
It was just the eighth career Tour start for the 26-year-old Wofford product.
Given his spectacular two-year tenure on the PGA Tour, and his incredible showing for the Americans at this year’s Ryder Cup, big things were expected this week from Scottie Scheffler, who has done everything but win on tour. He was unable to notch that first win this week, but it was another fantastic result as a final-round 7-under 64 meant a result of solo-fourth.
That 64 came in spite of a double-bogey on 16 when he was on the verge of posting an even better number from far back.
Sunday’s Stumbles at Mayakoba
Talor Gooch, a 29-year-old Oklahoma State product had gotten off to a tremendous start to his new season, with two top-five finishes and a T11 in three starts. With a third-round 63, he was able to keep his momentum going for a fourth straight event, but was able to make much of anything happen on Sunday with three bogeys to just two birdies, and he closed with a double-bogey on 18 where he hit his tee shot out of bounds and missed a short putt for bogey. His 74 dropped him from solo-second to T11.
J.J. Spaun had put himself in fantastic position for a second straight top-10 finish, one season after he recorded only one such result in 26 starts (a T9 in his first start of the season).
Unfortunately, bogeys on each of the final three holes led to a poor 2-over 73 that dropped him 22 spots from T5 to T27.
The worst round and biggest Sunday drop came from South Africa’s Garrick Higgo. Like Spaun, Higgo bogeyed 16, 17, and 18. He had already been 1-over going into that stretch, and a 4-over 75 caused him to plummet 44 spots from T17 to T64. The 22-year-old won last year’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree, which was just this second career Tour start, but has had trouble since, with nothing better than a T34 in 13 worldwide starts since.
Just a Blast!
“I think I’ll have to say so. I played really good golf throughout the week. I did not have my best stuff today, but man, I wish I could putt more like I did today more often; that was awesome! It was just a blast all week!”
– Viktor Hovland
Back-to-Back World Wide Technology Champion