Viktor Hovland holds off Xander Schauffele to win Tour Championship

Viktor Hovland of Norway plays his shot from the seventh tee during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on August 27, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Viktor Hovland was unbeatable Sunday.

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Viktor Hovland started Sunday with an enormous lead, but he knew it wasn’t big enough to be safe at the Tour Championship, with the biggest payday in golf on the line.

Scottie Scheffler blew a six-shot lead, the same that Hovland began the day with, a year ago, and perhaps no one knew that better than Hovland’s closest chaser, Xander Schauffele. Over the past seven years, no one has played East Lake better than Schauffele.

Both players were up for the challenge.

The pair blitzed the front nine, making a combined nine birdies. But then Hovland settled down and Schauffele made his move, pulling to within three shots of Hovland after seven birdies.

But he’d have to do better than that to catch the hottest player in pro golf.

Hovland drilled a 23-foot par putt on 14 to maintain his three-shot lead and stay bogey-free, then birdied the final three holes on his way to a 63 and five-shot Tour Championship victory. The victory also means Hovland wins the season-long FedEx Cup title and the $18 million bonus that comes with it.

The 25-year-old becomes the first player to start the Tour Championship at eight under (the second-best position) since the staggered-start format was introduced in 2019. It’s the third time the top player in the FedEx Cup standings (Scottie Scheffler the past two seasons) entering the final event failed to win the season-long race.

It also marks back-to-back wins for Hovland after he won the BMW Championship last week at Olympia Fields to jump from seventh to second in the standings. Hovland also won the Memorial Tournament earlier this summer, doubling his career win total from the start of the year.

“It’s been a great year,” Hovland said. “I feel like I’ve taken a lot of steps this season, contending in more major championships, I finally won in the U.S., I won a big tournament, Jack’s event, and honestly, after that I felt like I’ve gotten so much better and it was very pleasing to see.”

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Schauffele was Hovland’s only challenger all day, finishing six strokes clear of third himself, but never got closer than three shots from the Norwegian. It’s the seventh time in seven appearances Schauffele, who started this week at three under, has finished in the top-7 at the Tour Championship. With a 62 Sunday, he tied Hovland this week for the low 72-hole gross score without the starting strokes, the third time he’d done that for his career, including his win in 2017 before the format change.

He gave it just about everything he had Sunday, going out in 30, but only picking up one shot on Hovland. Both players birdied the opening hole and then were forced to sit through a nearly two-hour weather delay before finishing No. 2. Neither broke stride as Hovland went out in 31 himself.

“I didn’t do enough,” Schauffele said afterward. “I thought 62 would have let me get close to him, but I think the closest I got to was three shots back. He played unbelievably well. He made important putts and he’s just played like a champ.”

Schauffele then made back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12 and even had chances to get within just two shots before Hovland made key par saves on 13 and 14 to slam the door shut.

“Even with that start I was 4-under through 6 and I still didn’t feel like I had the tournament won because there’s so much that can happen on the back nine,” Hovland said. “If I missed the putt on 14, it could have been a different story. So, yeah, it was just a long day.”

Then Hovland pulled away for good on the final three holes.

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