OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – As Rory McIlroy counted up Viktor Hovland’s scorecard after the final round of the BMW Championship, he realized that Hovland’s back nine included eight threes and a single four.
“It adds up to a nice little 28 for him,” McIlroy said marveling at Hovland’s brilliant performance. “He just keeps his foot on the pedal. Just isn’t scared. Just keeps going forward, keeps going at it.”
The 25-year-old Norwegian kept his foot on the pedal and rode his way to a course-record 9-under 61 at Olympia Fields on Sunday and a two-stroke victory over world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick. Hovland’s sizzling 61 to clinch his fifth PGA Tour title was the low round by a winner this season on the Tour and also the lowest final round in the history of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
When told that the CBS golf team declared it the best round of the year, Hovland exclaimed, “Wow!” and added, “It definitely has to be the best round I’ve ever played given the circumstances, a playoff event and this golf course.”
Hovland erased a three-stroke deficit on Sunday, making three birdies in his first five holes, but he didn’t let his lone bogey of the day, at No. 7, derail him.
“It felt like it was just going to be one of those days like the other days where I’ve gotten off to a nice start and kind of just played OK and shot 68 or 67 or 66, which is a nice score, but after making that turn, stuffed it on 10, hit it close on 11, stuffed it on 12, and that’s when I kind of felt like I hit the groove a little bit.”
Did he ever. Hovland reeled off seven birdies in his final nine holes to vault past Scheffler and Fitzpatrick, who shared second despite both shooting 66.
The moment that sealed the deal.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 20, 2023
“Yeah, played great. Can’t do anything about 61,” said Fitzpatrick, who was the only player to move into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup and qualify for the Tour Championship, bumping out Chris Kirk. “I did just see Viktor, I called him a little (jerk).”
Hovland’s caddie Shay Knight said his player was in the zone and for him to do it on this big of a stage – though Olympia Fields was softened by rain earlier in the week and there was hardly a breath of wind on a humid day, it still is arguably one of the 50-100 toughest courses in the country – shows how much of “a bulldog he is.”
To hear Hovland tell it, he just kept hitting fairways – he led the field in fairways hit for the week – and kept giving himself chances at birdie. “We’re one shot closer, we’re one shot closer, and then suddenly we were tied. It just happened so quickly,” he said. “When I made the putt on 15 for birdie, I felt like, OK, we’ve got a chance now if I can finish pretty well, then you never know what’s going to happen behind you.
“Then when I made a birdie on 17, I was feeling really good, and then the birdie on 18, as well, I felt like I could win it outright. But it wasn’t until then, I had no idea what was going on. I was just going to try to play well and keep making birdies.”
Hovland’s record day lifted him to a 72-hole total of 17-under 263. Scheffler had made birdies on six of the first 13 holes but his putter, which has plagued him for much of the season, let him down again and he made a critical bogey at 17 to take some of the drama out of the finish. Scheffler, however, claimed the top spot in the FedEx Cup heading to Atlanta, knocking Jon Rahm back to fourth, and will hold a two-stroke lead over Hovland, who jumped to second in the point standings, in the staggered start at the FedEx Cup finale.
After munching on a piece of pizza that he snagged on his way to his winner’s press conference, Hovland conceded he was running on fumes but would be ready for the challenge of trying to win back-to-back weeks and the season-long championship.
“Well, I’m about to pass out right now, but no, just a good night’s sleep, and we’re right back at it next week at East Lake,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll be hot and we’ll be sweating a lot, so I’m definitely feeling that it’s been a lot of golf, but it seems like the more I’ve played recently, I seem to play better. Just need to lean into that and hopefully we have another good week next week.”