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When Rory McIlroy last landed a Major as far back as Valhalla in 2014, Viktor Hovland was a 17-year-old who had just won the Norwegian Amateur.
This is just Hovland's 10th Major as a professional, he’s yet to record a top 10 in any of them, he came into The Open on the back of two missed cuts and, supposedly, his game was nowhere to be found at the start of this week.
But, as we’ve discovered in the past few years, the now 24-year-old is an extraordinary player and one who is now talked about in the same breath as the likes of Collin Morikawa. He’s already a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and on Sunday he’ll head out with McIlroy looking to become Norway’s first male Major champ.
Class rarely disappears for very long and Hovland, although very much the underdog in most people’s eyes alongside McIlroy, will tee it up as the leading birdie maker (along with Rory and Cam Young), there was also that hole-out eagle at 15 on Friday, and the second best putter in St Andrews. He’s shot rounds of 68-66-66 and, if you’re hoping for something of a procession for McIlroy, then you might be in for a shock.
“It's pretty crazy from where I grew up and so far away from playing the PGA Tour, European Tour, for that matter Major championships. Just to be here is very special, but to have a chance to win one is – yeah, I have to pinch myself, but that doesn't mean I'm going to hold back,” he explained.
“The support I've been seeing the last couple of years in Norway has been really cool because, as you said, we've always been kind of a winter nation and done well in the Olympics. We have a lot of great athletes, but I think now, not just in golf, but in tennis and football, a lot of different sports, there's a bunch of Norwegian athletes coming up in summer sports as well. Hopefully we could have a similar impact to when Henrik won The Open a few years ago, and just get more people to play golf and watch it on TV.”
For the European golf fan hopefully the fact that Hovland and McIlroy are obviously comfortable in one another’s company will play out with one of them becoming the first European winner at St Andrews since Sir Nick Faldo in 1990 – the two of them are four clear of the twin Cams, Young and Smith, while Si Woo Kim and Scottie Scheffler are five back.
“Rory is a good guy, so I don't mind saying good shot to him. The bunker shot he hit on 10, like disregarding the situation you're in, that's just a filthy bunker shot. What a wild two on that hole. I was glad I was able to make mine for birdie. But when things like that happen, you just kind of have to give each other a fist bump and say good shot. It's just part of the game. Rory and Harry (Diamond) are good guys, and we chatted it up a little bit. So it was a good mix.”
Hovland even admitted that he and Rory might make a solid Ryder Cup pairing in the years to come. Sunday will see the 150th name engraved on the old Claret Jug, for McIlroy it would be a second entry, for Hovland it’s uncharted territory but, as we know, he’s a pretty fast learner.
“I feel like I had some experience with that in the Ryder Cup. I've just got to play my game and not worry about anything else.”
Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.