PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Maybe Viktor Hovland used up his luck quota for the 2023 Players Championship.
How many players miss the grass at No. 17 and live to tell the tale?
“I just figured I don’t even need to hit a full 50-degree,” he said of his tee shot on the 17th hole that bounded high in the air after hitting the green’s wood border. “Take a little bit off of it, and then the wind kind of switches more left to right… I didn’t hit the best of shots, but I thought for sure it was going to be on the green, just a little short right.”
It wasn’t quite that simple.
For the second straight year, Hovland is firmly in the running after a roller-coaster of a 71 in Friday’s second round at the Players Championship, tied for seventh at 4-under entering the clubhouse and four strokes off the lead.
A little bit up. A little bit down. A little of everything, an opening 32 on the back nine followed by a double-bogey/bogey sequence at Nos. 4 and 5 that left him less than satisfied.
“Obviously in a good spot, but pretty disappointed I didn’t finish it off today because I played some really, really good golf,” he said.
Wild ride on island green
Friday revolved around the wild moment at the 17th, when Hovland took a little off a 50-degree wedge in a stroke. It was nearly a disaster: The shot came up short of the Island Green but struck the planks, cannoned into the air and landed safely. He eventually made par.
“It was a little too much drama there,” he said.
Weathering that ordeal was just one more highlight for the third-highest European in the World Golf Ranking at No. 11, behind Spain’s Jon Rahm and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
He also made par despite hitting water at No. 9, but didn’t fare so well on the front nine, particularly with a double at No. 4.
Break through at Ponte Vedra?
The 25-year-old, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, is no newcomer to the Players. After the coronavirus-shortened 2020 edition, he came back in 2021, he picked up a two-stroke penalty and missed the cut. In 2022, he nailed a hole-in-one at the par-3 eighth from 219 yards and even held the lead at one point in a four-way tie with Keegan Bradley, Paul Casey and eventual winner Cameron Smith.
He’s also vastly improved one of his previous weaknesses in the sand. Last year, he ranked 215th on the Tour in sand saves entering the Players. This year, he’s 22nd among qualifiers.
Hovland said his familiarity with another Pete Dye course, Oak Tree National in Edmond, Oklahoma, has helped him adjust to the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass — for this year and beyond.
“It’s one of the great things about Pete Dye is that he kind of challenges you,” he said. “There’s enough room to hit golf shots between the rough and on the greens, but he makes it very visually intimidating.”