NASSAU, Bahamas - There's no faking it in windy conditions that send golf balls astray. A glance at Viktor Hovland's scorecard - a 2-under 70 on Friday at Albany Club that included an eagle and four birdies - and he made it look easy. But did it feel easy to him?
"It didn't feel like it, certainly not, no," he said.
Hovland, the defending champion, says he doesn't have his 'A game,' something Tiger Woods, the tournament host, used to say, but despite battling his swing and struggling with his putter, he has played well enough to grab a one-stroke lead at the Hero World Challenge.
"It's kind of strange, like I knew it was windy and I feel like I missed so many putts. And I still don't feel like I'm hitting it very good, like I'm not comfortable over the ball, but the ball's going straight and I'm giving myself looks," he said. "It just doesn't feel that great, and I'm missing a lot of putts and somehow we ended up at 2 under today, so yeah, happy with that."
Hovland carded three birdies in a row starting at No. 13, but the highlight of the round was holing out his third shot from 84 yards in the right rough for eagle on the par-5 sixth.
"Kind of had a little weird lie on the upslope. The wind was off the right so it wasn't that comfortable of a shot," he said. "I basically aimed it 30 feet right of the pin and I hit like a 50-degree just trying to hit it as low as possible to try to get under the wind. And I saw it spinning at the end a little bit and I yelled 'go' and yeah, just slam dunked right in. That was the first time I've done that."
But this is hardly the first time the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has played in windy conditions.
"Yeah, it blows like this all the time in Oklahoma," said Hovland, who recalled competing in the Big 12 conference tournament at Prairie Dunes in Kansas. "My freshman year, I could hardly get the ball up above the ground, so I was loving it. I shot 1 under the front nine and was probably leading by three or four shots in nine holes. That was the best I've ever played in that much wind, so that was fun."
But putting in the wind, he argued, is the hardest part of playing in the wind.
"You're grinding on three-footers," said Hovland, who shot in the 70s at Albany Club for the first time in six rounds. "It's windy and it's grainy, and the greens are fast so it's not like you can just ram the putts in, you've got to actually kind of die the putts in and that's when the wind can hit it a little bit harder."
So far, so good for Hovland, who holds a one-stroke lead over Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Young and Collin Morikawa - all of whom represented Team USA at the Presidents Cup in September.
Scheffler shoots for No. 1
Scottie Scheffler plays his shot from the second tee of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on Dec. 02, 2022, in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Scottie Scheffler sounded a bit like fictional race-car driver Ricky Bobby - "If you're not first, you're last" - when he was asked if he liked having a chance to regain World No. 1 this week should he win the Hero World Challenge.
"I don't like being No. 2," he said. "I don't like finishing second."
Through two rounds, Scheffler, the amiable Texan who held the top spot for 30 consecutive weeks before being bumped out by Rory McIlory on Oct. 23, is in a tie for second place after shooting 4-under 68 at Albany Club on Friday.
Scheffler reeled off four birdies in a five-hole span, beginning at the par-5 11th, and did so in conditions made difficult by winds gusting to 30 miles per hour and wreaking havoc on scoring despite preferred lies being in use.
"Especially on a golf course like this where it's exposed, it's very challenging," Scheffler said. "You can't really play the ball along the ground here off the tee just because it's so wet, so got to get the ball airborne and it was definitely playing tough today."
Scheffler already has won four times this year, including the Masters, and was named PGA Tour Player of the Year. He has a chance to leapfrog McIlroy and regain World No. 1 thanks to Tiger Woods, the No. 1,277-ranked player in the world, withdrawing from the tournament and being replaced by No. 29 Sepp Straka, which lifted the strength of field enough to boost the world ranking points on the line this week.
"No. 1 is obviously a place I'd like to get back to, but if we're not playing golf for a while, who knows what the World Rankings are going to do," Scheffler said. "Right now it seems to be a bit of a flawed system, so we'll see what happens there. It's definitely something nice to go back to, but I'm not going to be thinking about it when I'm on the golf course."
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek