After finishing off the BMW International, Viktor Hovland expressed one emotion above all others:
“I’m kind of glad it’s over,” Hovland said after his win. “It was a long day, it was very stressful, but it feels great and it will be nice to relax for a couple of weeks.”
Hovland had a particularly strange WD from last week’s U.S. Open when he got sand in his eye. This week went decidedly differently. He entered the final round at Golfclub München Eichenried in Germany with a three-shot lead and posted a final-round of two-under 70 to win by two. Still, there was nothing easy about it.
“That was a long day. Sleeping on the lead you start thinking about winning, but there’s a lot of things that can happen,” Hovland said.
And happen they did. Hovland’s fiercest challenge actually came from well behind when hometown hero Martin Kaymer, eight shots back after an opening birdie, started to make his run. Kaymer birdied 2, 5 and 6. He birdied 9, 10, 11 and 12. When he made another birdie at the 15th and then two-putted for yet another at the drivable par-4 16th, he’d played his way into a tie for the lead with Hovland.
“Making those putts in the end, on 15 and 16, it feels good,” Kaymer said after his round. “I haven’t putted that well in a really long time. I putt consistently okay — but today I needed everything and I pretty much made everything.”
Several groups behind, Hovland was stalled out. He made bogey at No. 2 and birdie at No. 5, but settled for pars on holes 6-12, a stretch that included three gettable par-5s.
“I saw [Martin] was climbing the leaderboard pretty quickly and I saw he was at 16 under for a while,” Hovland said. “I was at 17 for a while but I knew he had 18 left and was probably going to make a birdie.”
Kaymer bogeyed 17 but added his 10th birdie of the day at No. 18 to post the clubhouse lead of 17 under. All that was left was for Hovland to beat the number.
No problem. Hovland birdied No. 13 to take a one-shot lead to the finishing stretch. Then he went for the green at the reachable 16th and got up-and-down for a big-time birdie. He gave that shot back at No. 17, but finished things off in style with a closing birdie at the par-5 18th to beat Kaymer by two.
“I still had to get after it and make a couple of birdies,” Hovland said. “My strategy didn’t change much at all. I still decided to go for it on 16 and still decided to hit it on the green on 18. I knew I had to close this thing out, I couldn’t just roll over.”
In finishing off the win, Hovland became the first Norwegian man with a victory on the European Tour. He earned the $274,000 first prize. And he got a congratulations from Kaymer, who greeted Hovland by the 18th green.
“I didn’t see he was on the 18th green until he said something to me,” Hovland said of his closest competitor. Hovland offered his own congratulations in return. “Sixty-four today was really good with the greens firmed up and some tricky pins.”
Kaymer is still chasing after his first victory since the 2014 U.S. Open. He was disappointed to come up short but generally thrilled with the result — particularly the putt he made at 18 to apply some pressure to Hovland.
“I am very pleased to make that many birdies — that gave me a chance. It was important on 18,” he said. “I haven’t felt that in a long time.”
Kaymer, one of the most popular European pros, is just 36 but was recently named a vice captain for this year’s Ryder Cup. Still, he has designs on making the team. He ranked 21st in European points heading into the week and only improved on his chances.
“If I’m in great form and I can put myself in contention a few more times until then, maybe Pádraig [Harrington] has something to think about,” Kaymer concluded.
One thing is for sure: Hovland will be on that team, with one European Tour victory — at least — under his belt.