Déjà vu bunker incident dashes PGA Championship contender’s chances
Mark Twain once said that truth is stranger than fiction, and on Sunday afternoon, golf fans got to witness the epitome of that phrase.
Standing in a bunker right of the 16th fairway, Viktor Hovland needed to navigate the lip of the trap to get his ball anywhere near the putting surface. And with playing partner Brooks Koepka ahead by a stroke, the Norwegian opted for the aggressive play that would (theoretically) get the ball all the way to the green.
The decision proved costly.
Instead of lofting his shot over the lip, Hovland’s 9-iron came out low and shot straight into the face of the bunker. To make matters worse, his ball plugged into the turf at the point where the rough and the sand intersect.
“Pretty unfortunate on 16,” Hovland said. “But I still didn’t think I gave it away.”
If this situation sounds familiar, that’s because it happened just a day earlier in almost the exact same spot. During the third round, Corey Conners hit a shot from the very same bunker that had a nearly identical result.
Conners’ situation is not one you see every day, and the ruling for such a scenario took a while to unpack. In fact, after Conners hit his ball, it took a considerable amount of time to even find the ball.
“I didn’t make great contact there. I saw everybody looking up in the air. I did that as well,” Conners said. “I thought it maybe skipped up. But you know, didn’t see anything land and was pretty certain it was embedded there.”
Conners eventually found the ball embedded in the lip, and PGA of America rules official Mike Raby helped administer the complicated ruling. Embedded ball relief is typically not complex, but with the location on the lip of a bunker, finding a spot no closer to the hole and not in the bunker took some doing.
The poor break (or was it actually a good one?) dropped him from alone in first to one shot behind after Conners made double bogey. It would be the last time the Canadian stood atop the leaderboard as he eventually finished in a tie for 12th.
“Wish I could have that one back,” Conners said.
Hovland’s miscue proved similarly costly. Once again, a rules official walked the pro through the proper drop procedure, and once again, it took a fair bit of time. But in the end, the result was the same: a disastrous double bogey and a tumble down the leaderboard.
“Just didn’t get out of the bunker,” Hovland said. “Plugged in the lip and tried to get a drop and made a double bogey.”
After arriving at No. 16 just one shot back, Hovland’s double bogey dropped him three shots behind Koepka’s pace. And although Hovland finished par-birdie to finish in a tie for second, the double on 16 proved to be the difference. His Sunday 68 was one worse than Koepka, with Hovland finishing two strokes back of the now five-time major winner.
Hovland has now finished inside the top 10 in his last three major appearances.
“It sucks right now, but it is really cool to see that things are going the right direction,” Hovland said. “If I just keep taking care of my business and just keep working on what I’ve been doing, I think we’re going to get one of these soon.”