A few minutes after posting the lowest round of his PGA Tour career, the lowest round in Olympia Fields’ storied history and the lowest round in FedEx Cup Playoff history, Viktor Hovland stood with CBS reporter Amanda Renner and was asked to put the moment in perspective.
“I hadn’t given it much thought but I don’t think I have to think too long,” he told Renner. “It definitely has to be the best round I’ve ever played. Given the circumstances, the playoff event at this golf course, finishing the way I did the last nine holes was pretty special.”
Pretty special undersells it. It’d be tough not to undersell it. Hovland made seven birdies on the back nine. He made eight 3s in his last nine holes. He brought a major championship-level golf course to its knees with a final-round nine-under 61 that featured a back-nine 28 with which Hovland overtook Scottie Scheffler — plus the rest of the field — en route to a BMW Championship win.
The 28 came on the back of Hovland’s ball-striking; six of his seven back-nine birdie putts came from inside 10 feet. He hit six of seven fairways on the back, too. He showed off his new-and-improved short game with a touchy up-and-down from just short of the 15th green for a birdie 4. And he capped it off with a wedge shot to six feet at No. 18 and a high-stakes putt poured in the center of the cup in front of a raucous Chicago crowd.
Hovland has been working on his restraint and on his game management. He’s been working on firing at fewer flags. That’s how you contend on the Tour’s toughest venues. That’s how he’s improved his play at major championships. But this was…something slightly different.
“I wouldn’t say making seven birdies on the back nine is trying to play more conservative going into the greens,” he said with a laugh. “It just kind of worked out that way. It was just a mindset thing. Instead of saying ‘okay, I need to birdie this hole, I need to birdie this hole, I need to birdie this hole to have a chance,’ it was just ‘okay, what’s the right decision right here, right now?’ And then commit to it.
“I hit some great shots, I got a couple nice bounces and the putts went in. But it wasn’t like I mapped the whole thing out. I was just trying to make the best decision every single shot.”
The win was a fitting feather in Hovland’s cap in the penultimate event of what has been his most consistent PGA Tour season yet. The 25-year-old entered the week at No. 5 in the world. He hasn’t missed a cut since July of 2022.
Still, it seemed for much of the day like Hovland’s best efforts still might not be enough. He began the day at eight under par, three shots off the lead of Matthew Fitzpatrick and Scottie Scheffler, and for much of the day the tournament winner seemed destined to come from that final twosome. When Hovland three-putted the par-4 7th for bogey he seemed destined to an also-ran designation. But a wedge shot to three feet at No. 10 seemed to ignite him. The rest was history.
As Hovland’s playing partner, Rory McIlroy had the best view of Sunday’s proceedings. He posted a final-round 66 to finish solo fourth. But that felt admittedly pedestrian beside a victorious 61.
“He played incredible,” McIlroy said. “I was marking his card in there and I’m like, ‘oh, you only made one 4 on the back nine, the rest 3s,’ so it added up to a nice little 28 for him. It was great to see. He played great.”
Earlier this summer, Hovland earned a career-changing victory at the Memorial. This win earned him a cool $3.6 million. It also catapulted him to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings heading to next week’s Tour Championship. In other words, Hovland’s dreamy playoff run isn’t done just yet.
It was fitting that Scheffler was there with Hovland at the end; the two were this year’s top performers, in aggregate, in the four major championships. But Scheffler missed a short par putt at No. 17 and lipped out his birdie try at No. 18. He settled for a two-way tie for second.
“I’m just a bit frustrated,” he said post-round. “I think that would be the way to describe it. I mean, Viktor went out and really just beat me today and played a fantastic round. I can hold my head high and just — I did my best out there today and fought hard. Just ultimately came up a couple shots short.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick finished beside him at 15 under par. It was the best result since his victory at the RBC Heritage in April and came at the right time; Fitzpatrick entered the week at No. 40 in the FedEx Cup standings and needed a high finish to crack the top 30 and qualify for next week’s Tour Championship. He got it.
“Yeah, played great. Can’t do anything about 61,” Fitzpatrick said post-round. “I did just see Viktor, I called him a little s—. But for me, just really pleased again that I played really well final round in contention with World No. 1, and I didn’t lose it. Someone else came from behind and won it.”
McIlroy is the defending champion at East Lake and feels primed and ready for another run at the FedEx Cup after his fourth-place finish.
“Yeah, I’m playing great tee to green, the best I’ve played in a long time. Going to have to drive the ball probably a little straighter, but I felt like I found something on the back nine there today to go into next week,” he said. “But overall I’m in a really good position going into next week, so excited for it.”
Max Homa and Brian Harman rounded out the top 5 at 11 under par for the week.
Next week’s Tour Championship marks the final event of the PGA Tour season.