Golf roundup: Viktor Hovland repeats at World Challenge with a little added drama

AP photo by Fernando Llano / Viktor Hovland, right, talks to tournament host Tiger Woods after winning the PGA Tour's Hero World Challenge for the second year in a row Sunday at Albany Golf Club in New Providence, Bahamas.
AP photo by Fernando Llano / Viktor Hovland, right, talks to tournament host Tiger Woods after winning the PGA Tour's Hero World Challenge for the second year in a row Sunday at Albany Golf Club in New Providence, Bahamas.

NASSAU, Bahamas — Viktor Hovland led by four shots at the turn. No one got closer to him than two shots during the final nine holes at the Hero World Challenge.

It sounds easy. It was far from it.

Hovland pulled a 6-iron shot from an awkward lie into the water on the 18th hole and had to make a 20-foot bogey putt for a 3-under-par 69 to secure victory Sunday, allowing him to join tournament host Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of this event that occupies a six-week layoff on the PGA Tour's official schedule.

"I made it a little more exciting, I guess," Hovland said.

A year ago, the 25-year-old from Norway rallied from six shots behind on the final day with a 66 to win. That was fun. Far more stressful was leading the entire way at Albany Golf Club, even when it looked to everyone else that it was a Bahamas breeze.

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, whose three-putt double bogey on the ninth hole left him five shots behind, stayed in the game with four birdies on the back nine that gave him a fleeting chance, two shots back playing the 18th.

Hovland faced a 6-iron shot from the slope above a bunker, with water left of the green. The face of the club closed on impact, and the ball headed left into the hazard.

"Basically just do anything else but hit it in the water," Hovland said. "So as soon as that happened, I was pretty frustrated. But I knew that he didn't have a gimme par, so if I can wedge up there close, I can still make a putt and win the tournament. And if not, he still has to make a par to force me to a playoff.

"But it was a lot more stressful than it should have been."

Scheffler put his approach into the sandy area, and his chip ran over the cup with too much speed, about 10 feet by the hole. If Hovland missed his bogey putt, Scheffler would have that putt for a playoff.

Hovland ended the suspense. Scheffler missed what became a meaningless putt and shot a 68 to finish two shots behind, a runner-up to Hovland for the second straight year.

"I said earlier in the week that I don't like finishing second," Scheffler said. "It's not a good feeling right now. But I'm proud of the fight."

Woods won the event in 2006 and 2007 when it was held at Sherwood Country Club in the Los Angeles area. He had to withdraw this past week with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, instead watching in his Sunday red shirt for some drama no one was expecting.

"It's frigging nerve-wracking," Hovland said with a smile. "You're never that comfortable. I didn't play that great on the back nine, but it was good enough."

Hovland finished at 16-under 272 and won $1 million. The victory is unofficial, but the Official World Golf Ranking points pushed him up three spots to No. 9.

Scheffler needed to win to return to No. 1, at least for a few weeks. Rory McIlroy was projected to end the year on top of the list regardless of the outcome.

Starting three shots behind, Scheffler holed a pitch from 30 yards short of the green on the par-5 sixth hole for an eagle to reach 14 under for the tournament and momentarily tie for the lead. Hovland was in trouble off the tee. He had to play a pitching wedge over a 20-foot dune, an 8-iron to the green and then holed an 18-foot birdie putt to stay one ahead.

The next hole was pivotal, the 18th notwithstanding.

Scheffler's pitch from the bottom of the fairway on the short par-4 seventh barely got onto the green and rolled into the bunker, leading to bogey. Hovland was on the edge of a bunker and chipped to five feet for birdie and a two-shot swing, restoring his lead to three.

There were other challengers over the final two hours, just not for long.

Cameron Young made a strong bid and got within two shots at one point until he took a bogey on the 16th. Xander Schauffele also made an early run until that ended with a bogey on the par-5 15th.

Scheffler ran off three straight birdies through the 16th hole to get within two shots, and Hovland gave him an opening on the 18th until he closed it with the big putt.

Scheffler still heads into the holidays with a breakthrough year behind him — the Masters among his four PGA Tour wins, No. 1 in the world longer than anyone else this year, the PGA Tour player of the year.

Young had a 68 and finished alone in third, followed by Schauffele (68) and Justin Thomas, who had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine to salvage a poor start and close with 70 to finish fifth at 10 under.

"It's only 20 players, but it's the best 20 players in the world," Hovland said. "You've got to play your best to win."

Meronk, Buhai win Australian Open titles

MELBOURNE, Australia — A superb 12-meter putt off the back of the last green for an eagle was Adrian Meronk's spectacular signature to his Australian Open triumph at Victoria Golf Club.

Meronk, allowed the luxury of strolling down the last hole with a three-shot lead, stretched the winning advantage to five shots to cap a superb 4-under 66.

It completed a relaxing week for Poland's first winner of the event as he stayed with relatives of his partner nearby and was able to walk to the course each day to shoot 73-66-63-66 and become the first European to win the title since McIlroy in 2013.

South Africa's Ashleigh Buhai fought off late challenges from young Australian golfer Grace Kim and South Korea's Jiyai Shin to win the Australian Open women's title by one shot. That competition was held concurrently with the men's tournament off alternate tees.

Meronk, who broke through with his Irish Open victory this year, was too steady for Australian playing partners Adam Scott and Min Woo Lee. Scott finished second at 9 under, with Lee another shot back in third.

West Australian player Haydn Barron similarly holed a monster putt for an eagle on the final hole to share fourth place with Spain's Alejandro Canizares at 7 under.

"I'm super excited, and to finish like that on the 18th hole is just unreal. I'm so grateful, thank you for all the support, and I enjoyed this week so much," Meronk said.

"I felt really good again today. I kept doing what I've done the last two days, and it worked pretty well. I'm super proud of myself, proud of my team and super happy right now."

Buhai tapped in for par after watching Shin's birdie attempt to force a playoff miss to the right of the cup, and she added the title to her British Women's Open crown as she finished at 12 under.

It was a double family celebration for Buhai with husband Dave serving as her caddy. And also compensation after he couldn't carry the bag during her British victory.

"It's the cherry on the top, I guess. And obviously last minute, to have Dave on the bag, it's very special to be able to celebrate together," Buhai said.

"He was good today. It was a bit easier for him being inside the ropes than outside the ropes. You're a little bit more in control. Got lots of friends and family here, it's very cool."

Shin edged out Australian player Hannah Green by one shot for second place with Kim fourth at 9 under, one ahead of another Australia's Minjee Lee.

Lawrence wins South African Open

JOHANNESBURG — Thriston Lawrence held on to win his home South African Open by one shot despite a final round of 2-over 74 at Blair Atholl.

Lawrence started the day with a two-shot lead over Clement Sordet of France, and despite extending his advantage to five strokes early on the back nine, the South African only just managed to hold off his playing partner to finish at 16-under 272.

The victory is his third on the Europe-based DP World Tour, following wins at the Joburg Open a year ago and the European Masters in August.

"This is what you strive for, being a kid you dream for this moment, to win such a prestigious event in front of an amazing crowd," said Lawrence. "It felt all easy going through the round, and then golf happened at the end.

"I managed to get it done, and I'm really pleased."

Sweden's Jens Fahrbring (70) finished third, two shots off the pace, and Germany's Matti Schmid (69) was fourth, another three strokes back.

Lawrence bogeyed the 14th as Sordet made birdie and worse was to come on the next as Lawrence pulled his approach over the green and into the water to run up a double bogey.

Another dropped shot on No. 16 meant Lawrence and Sordet were tied for the lead, only for Sordet to bogey the 17th after failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker.

Sordet found more sand off the tee on the par-five 18th and was unable to find the required birdie to force a playoff.

The tournament was the second of three events in South Africa this month as part of the European circuit's 2023 season.