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Norwegians team for 62 to co-lead Zurich Classic

Kristoffer Ventura and Viktor Hovland at 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Kristoffer Ventura tees off during Thursday's 1st round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana in Avondale. He and teammate Viktor Hovland (left) shot 10-under 62 in the better-ball format.

Kristoffer Ventura and Viktor Hovland, junior rivals in Norway and college teammates at Oklahoma State, post 10 under in team event

Kristoffer Ventura and Viktor Hovland have a lot of history between them: rivals as junior golfers in Norway, college teammates at Oklahoma State and now colleagues on the PGA Tour.

On Thursday, that common ground was on display as they teamed for a 10-under 62 for a share of the first-round lead at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans in Avondale, La.

Americans Brice Garnett and Scott Stallings, who started on the back nine at TPC Louisiana, birdied eight of the last 10 holes late in the day to match the Ventura-Hovland team's 62.

After a slow start in the four-balls (better-ball) format of the two-man team event, Ventura made seven birdies – including four in a six-hole stretch on the back nine – and Hovland added three at TPC Louisiana, just west of New Orleans.

“We basically had two birdie chances on every single hole, and towards the middle to back end of the round, Kris' putter heated up, and it was cool to watch,” Hovland said. “We just played really solid golf.”

Seven teams were tied at 63: Cameron Champ-Tony Finau, Billy Horschel-Sam Burns, Keegan Bradley-Brendan Steele, Kyoung-Hoon Lee-Kyle Stanley, Mark Hubbard-Sebastian Cappelen, Louis Oosthuizen-Charl Schwartzel and Marc Leishman-Cameron Smith. (For first-round scores, click here.)

The format will change to foursomes, also known as alternate shot, for Friday's second round before returning to four-balls on Saturday and foursomes on Sunday.

For Hovland, 23, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, and Ventura, 26, who is looking for his first victory, their familiarity proved to be as meaningful as their games.

“The mindset overall is just that we know each other pretty well and we're comfortable around each other,” Ventura said, “so it was going to be a fun day no matter what. Obviously, we played well today, but it's always fun to play together, and we don't get to do that very often in a tournament especially. It definitely brings back some memories to national teams in Norway and college golf, for sure.”

When Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton was recruiting Ventura at an amateur tournament in Scotland, he stumbled upon Hovland, who was playing one group behind his Norwegian mate. Bratton, a former Tour player, made a 2-for-1 bargain that would blossom in college golf and beyond.

Ventura and Hovland played for Oklahoma State’s 2018 NCAA champions. Ventura, who also won the Big 12 Conference title and an NCAA regional that year, won twice in 2019 on the Korn Ferry Tour en route to earning a spot alongside his former OSU teammate on the PGA Tour.

Hovland has enjoyed more success since leaving Stillwater. After he won the 2018 U.S. Amateur, Hovland got a taste of the big-time, tying for 32nd to earn the low-amateur honor at the 2019 Masters. He won twice on the PGA Tour in the 2020 calendar year, at the Puerto Rico Open and at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, and has seen his star rise in golf. He stands 15th in the world ranking after having reached No. 12 earlier this year.

Ventura, at No. 248 in the world, posted two top-10 results early in the 2020-21 season but has made only seven cuts in 17 starts. Hovland expressed surprise Thursday that his countryman has yet to win in the big leagues but likes what he sees so far in Louisiana.

“It's really hard to win, but you have to obviously play really good golf, but you can play really good golf and still not win,” Hovland said. “From what I've seen the last couple days in Kris' game, I've been really impressed. I mean, I know he's capable of it. He has a lot of talent. I think it's just to kind of get more comfortable around here and just seeing more of what he did today, just to get that confidence and get the ball rolling, it won't be too long, I don't think.”

That wait might be no more than a few days.

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