2021 Hero World Challenge leaderboard, grades: Viktor Hovland picks up third victory in last 12 starts

In his last two events, Viktor Hovland has not lost to a single golfer. On Sunday, Hovland followed his World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba victory from a few weeks ago with a win at the Hero World Challenge over 19 other golfers, 18 of whom were in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. It was also his third win in his last 12 starts.Hovland emerged from a bunched-up pack of players about midway through his final round after Collin Morikawa took a five-stroke lead into the finale, which he frittered away with a 41 on the front nine. After going out in a clean 33, Hovland played the first four holes on the back nine in even par and then went eagle-eagle-birdie to put the tournament away. A holed bunker shot on 14 — his third eagle of the week — was followed by an eagle on a par-5 from distance and a short one on the par-4 16th after a phenomenal approach. 
Hovland played the last two holes of the day bogey-bogey to beat Scottie Scheffler — who also took advantage of Morikawa’s collapse — by a single stroke. However, he also knew he had room at the time to play them like that with Scheffler trailing by three and done for the day as Hovland went to the last three holes.”I didn’t think a win was going to be very plausible, but I know this golf course is tricky,” Hovland, who trailed Morikawa by six entering Sunday’s final round, told NBC. “You can make a lot of birdies and make up a lot of ground, but it’s very easy to make bogeys and doubles. I knew if I put a good score up there, you never know what’s going to happen.”

It’s Hovland’s fifth win in 62 starts as a pro (to just five missed cuts in those events), and it came over a field that included 10 major championship winners and 13 other golfers from this year’s Ryder Cup. It might be a low-key event at Albany Golf Course in the Bahamas that guys are using as a semi-vacation, but everyone in this field is a psychotic competitor once tee shots are in the air on Thursday. Hovland beat them all. And it’s those 10 major championship winners Hovland will try to join in 2022. That’s his next step. He finished second in 2021 in strokes gained ball-striking (behind only Morikawa), and he was among the top five OWGR point-earners throughout the year (Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were the others). He thrived. He was awesome at the Ryder Cup — he and Morikawa played a best-ball 59 match on Sunday — and he’s proven himself in every way except at the majors where he has yet to finish in the top 10 anywhere.Expectations are constantly reset for young players, and that’s normally a good sign as it has been for Hovland. This week’s Hero World Challenge was not a revelation but rather confirmation that Hovland is one of the 10 best golfers on the planet. He’s in the category of contention at every major championship he enters is the new bar, and the expectation is, with 2022 approaching and a fresh set of majors and big-time events, that Hovland will, like he has with all the other hurdles in his career, start to clear it. Grade: A+

Collin Morikawa (T5): A horrible 41 on the front nine on Sunday completely took Morikawa out of contention here. It does nothing to the way I view him, but it has to be a bummer for him as he tried to end a dream year with another win. He was flawless for the first three days — 68-66-64 — and then touched those off with an out-of-nowhere-worst-in-field 76 on Sunday. Golf, baby. It’s undefeated. Grade: B-Justin Thomas (T5): J.T. shot the round of the day on Sunday with a 64. He started Sunday 12 back of Morikawa, but they were tied at 14 under by the end of Sunday’s round. J.T. was my pick to win this week, and he played pretty well on Thursday and Sunday, but the middle of the week wasn’t good enough. Still, there have been signs of thriving over his last few outings. “I played well [on Sunday],” said Thomas. “For as bad of some of the golf shots that I hit this week, I hit way more really, really good ones. I mean, obviously worked plenty hard the last couple weeks, but I wasn’t exactly my normal preparation with Thanksgiving the week prior. I was glad to at least have a good one today to salvage a decent week.” Grade: B

Jordan Spieth (20th): No baby bump for Spieth, who finished last by five strokes and lost to Hovland by 24. He failed to break 70 on the week and played the weekend in 7 over. He was also involved in an incredibly strange rules violation in which he and playing partner Henrik Stenson teed off using the wrong tee box on the ninth hole in the final round.”I actually didn’t think we were going to get penalized because it’s a charity event, but then I realized there’s world ranking involved and all that,” said Spieth. Grade: D- (though I’m pro-free pass for first-time fathers!).

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