Viktor Hovland is here to ruin Rory McIlroy’s Open Championship fairytale ending
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Don’t let the dearth of headlines fool you: Viktor Hovland is in fact tied for the lead at the Open Championship.
While Rory McIlroy gets all the pre-tournament press conferences, notoriety and extra ink in newspapers and on websites — that comes with four major titles — Hovland and McIlroy will start all square on the final day at the Old Course.
They started Saturday tied at 10 under, three behind Cameron Smith, but shot matching 66s and now go off in the final pairing on Sunday afternoon. They sit at 16 under, four clear of Cameron Young and Cameron Smith. Further down are Si Woo Kim and Scottie Scheffler, who are both five back.
McIlroy, who grew up in Northern Ireland, will be the fan favorite, as the former World No. 1 (and current No. 2) is looking for his first major title in eight years. Crowds, anywhere, are often pro-Rory, but the 33 year old received one of the biggest ovations of the day when he holed out from the bunker for eagle on the par-4 10th, which gave him a brief lead. In the pairing ahead waiting on the tee, Scottie Scheffler clapped too.
“Isn’t it Rory?” Scheffler said, when asked who the crowd favorite was. “I was like, they’re chanting his name out there. I think he’s definitely a crowd favorite. How can you not root for Rory?”
“I don’t mind,” said Hovland, who is still just 24, prefers to drive to PGA Tour events and listens to heavy-metal music. “It doesn’t take the pressure off of anything, but I feel like I had some experience with that in the Ryder Cup last year. And at the end of the day, well, there’s still some shouts there for me as well. So I appreciate those. At the end of the day, I’ve just got to play my game and not worry about anything else.”
But for all he’s done in his young career — a U.S. Amateur title, three PGA Tour wins and two DP World Tour victories — he’s never contended in a major. He’s made nine of 11 cuts but has just four top 25s and zero top 10s. He’s tied for 12th twice, most recently in last year’s Open Championship.
In his most recent major start, he made nine bogeys in his last 11 holes to miss the cut at the U.S. Open. He also missed the cut last week at the Genesis Scottish Open. But the game is there; he’s ninth in the world for a reason. His best run this year came in the spring, when he had strong finishes in three-straight marquee events: T4 at the Genesis Invitational, T2 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T9 at the Players Championship.
“I think I’ve just been a little insecure, and obviously when you start to see the ball going both ways a little bit, it just creates some more tension,” Hovland said on Friday. “And I feel like right now I’m kind of back to hitting that lower fade off the tee when I’m in a spot where I just got to hit the fairway.”
The Ryder Cup teammates went blow for blow on Saturday. Hovland made six birdies — four in a row from Nos. 3-6 — and no bogeys. McIlroy made five birdies, an eagle and a bogey. When McIlroy could have flipped the script after he holed out his bunker shot on 10, Hovland calmly drained his 14-footer to make birdie and tie him at 15 under.
“What a wild 2 on that hole,” Hovland said. “I was glad I was able to make mine for birdie.”
Hovland and McIlroy’s 16-under total (200) ties Tiger Woods for the second-lowest 54-hole score at St. Andrews. Nick Faldo owns the lowest (199). With a win, Hovland would also become the first Norwegian to win a major title.
They tee off at 2:50 p.m. local on Sunday (9:50 a.m. ET), which means they have lots of time to kill. On Friday night, Smith, the 36-hole leader, said he planned to watch “Peaky Blinders.” Hovland’s plan is to watch “Billions.”
“I’m pretty good at doing nothing,” he said. “I find that time flies by when you’re just sitting on the couch on your phone, watching shows.”
But there’s work to do Sunday afternoon.
“Just to be here is very special, but to have a chance to win one is — yeah, I have to pinch myself,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to hold back tomorrow.”