Defending Champ Hovland Leads by 1 in Hero World Challenge After 36 Holes

Defending champion Viktor Hovland of Norway is trying to join tournament host Tiger Woods as the only players to repeat in the 23-year history of the Hero World Challenge.

The 25-year-old Hovland, who was tied for the lead after the first round, bounced back from a slow start by shooting two-under-par 70 to take a one-stroke lead over second-ranked Scottie Scheffler, sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele, 10th-ranked Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young in more windy conditions at The Albany Resort in New Providence, The Bahamas.

Since there are only 20 players in the field, there was no 36-hole cut.

“It was very tough out there with the wind, on all aspects of the game,” said Hovland, who is ranked 11th in the world. “You have to start your tee shot in the right direction because once the wind takes it there’s nothing you can do. It’s difficult on chip shots, too, and even putts of three and four feet are no gimmes. Technology goes out the window, so you just have to feel the shot and hit it.

“But for some reason, I like playing in windier places and it gives me a chance to shoot under par if I can keep things under control. I like the fact that the course is fairly soft, because you can hit low shots close to the hole and know they are going to stop pretty quickly to give you chances for birdies.

“This course just seems to fit my game and it’s nice to know that I won here last year.”

Hovland, who has won six titles as a pro including three on the PGA Tour, had two early bogeys but holed out from 65 yards for an eagle on the sixth hole and made three straight birdies through No. 15 en route to a 36-hole score of 5-under 139 in wind gusts that reached 30 mph.

Scheffler, who with a victory can regain the No. 1 spot in the field from Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, collected four of his six birdies on the back nine while carding a 68 that included two bogeys.

“I just thought about hitting good shots because I knew it was going to be a difficult day out there,” said Scheffler, who won four times last season, including the Masters. “With the wind blowing that hard, and you just have to try to get the ball close to the hole and then make some putts.

“I drove the ball well, hit the ball pretty good with my irons but was really comfortable on the greens. I’ve been working really hard on my putting recently and was getting a really good roll on the ball. It’s really nice to see the ball going in the hole.

“But I played pretty well in all phases.”

Schauffele, from La Jolla and San Diego State, made five birdies and one bogey in another 68, while Morikawa, from La Canada Flintridge and Cal, salvaged a 71 with three birdies on the back nine, and Young, the 2020-21 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, made three birdies coming home in a 69.

Said Schauffele: “Starting out in wind like this is pretty tricky, but you just have to hit your shot in the right direction and let thee wind do its job. The player who controls his ball the best and makes the fewest mistakes will win.”

Added Morikawa, who also had a share of the first-round lead: “I made three straight bogeys through No. 10 and wasn’t putting very well early in the day, but then I just stayed patient to get things going on the next few holes. Other than that one rough spot, I just kept concentrating on what I’ve been working on and it’s been a couple pretty good days, considering the conditions.”

Tom Kim, the 20-year-old from South Korea who also was tied for the first-round lead, made two late bogeys in a 72 and is three shots behind in sixth, followed by eighth-ranked Justin Thomas, who had his only two birdies on the back nine in a bogey-free 70 and is four down in seventh.

Billy Horschel birdied the last hole for a 70 and is four strokes back in a tie for eighth with Sepp Straka, another of the first-round leaders who struggled to a 74 with only one birdie, while fifth-ranked Jon Rahm birdied two of the last three holes to cap a 71 and is one more back in a tie for 10th with ninth-ranked Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who had four birdies on the back nine in a 70, and Tony Finau, who rallied for a 70 with four birdies on the back nine.

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