News & Opinion

Hottest golfer in world takes aim at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Viktor Hovland at 2021 Saudi International
Viktor Hovland rides a streak of 4 consecutive worldwide top-6 results into this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla.

Viktor Hovland, who has run off 4 straight finishes of 6th or better worldwide, returns to Bay Hill in search of 3rd PGA Tour victory

There’s not a hotter player in golf than Viktor Hovland, and he likes his game’s direction entering this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“The last few events, I've been very good,” Hovland, who tied for second last week in the WGC Workday Championship, said Tuesday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla. “I just played some very solid golf.”

Hovland, 23, of Norway by way of Oklahoma State’s powerhouse college program, has won twice in the past 13 months, rising to No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He enters “The Arnie” on a run of four consecutive results of sixth or better worldwide (tee times).

“The last couple weeks, I feel like my long game has been pretty good,” he said. “A little up-and-down with the iron game, but mostly tee to green has kind of made it possible for me to have these consistent finishes. It's just kind of a matter of making a couple more putts and getting a few more chips up-and-down. But I've just kind of improved all the different areas of my game, and I feel like that's why I've been so consistent lately.”

Hovland, the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion, turned pro after a T-12 finish in the 2019 U.S. Open. He made his first 11 cuts as a pro, including two starts on the developmental Korn Ferry Tour, before stumbling with three missed cuts in his next five starts worldwide. Hovland broke through with his first professional victory, at the 2020 Puerto Rico Open, shortly before the widening coronavirus pandemic shut down the PGA Tour last spring. Starting with last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in which Hovland tied for 42nd, he hasn’t missed a cut in his past 23 starts. That includes his second victory, in December at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.

Hovland made his first appearance at the API in 2019, as an amateur, when he tied for 40th. Last year, during cold and windy conditions, he struggled to a final-round 77 and tied for 42nd. That forgettable day at Bay Hill preceded a run of 20 consecutive rounds of par or better on the PGA Tour as Hovland began to establish himself as a professional.

Hovland ranks fourth on the world points section of the European Tour’s Ryder Cup standings and would appear to be destined for his debut in the biennial matches this fall.

Though he still sports his trademark smile for seemingly more hours than the sunlight on a Norwegian summer solstice, Hovland says he is unrecognizable as a golfer.

“I've really changed as a player now compared to, let's say, six months ago,” Hovland said. “Every single area of my game is, I would say, very, very different.”

He ranks ninth on the PGA Tour in birdies, holing 4.67 per round, and 10th in greens in regulation, at 73.46 percent. That helps define a 69.632 scoring average, which ranks second only to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

“I'm hitting it farther; I'm not curving it as much left-to-right as I used to off the tee,” said Hovland, who averages 301.9 yards per drive. “I can hit my irons higher. I'm swinging it a little faster, so that helps out of the rough. My short game's better; I'm using more bounce. I can hit more shots. And putting, I can actually read putts consistently. Before, it was just a guess.

“Every single part of my game has dramatically changed. It doesn't mean I'll be playing well every single week, but at least I have a better potential to.”

And this week, he will have momentum on his side.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.