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BRADENTON, Fla. – This is the one-year anniversary of Viktor Hovland, on live television, saying that he “sucked” at chipping.
Of course, he’d just won the Puerto Rico Open for his first PGA Tour title, but he also had a point – at the time, he ranked 230th on Tour in strokes gained: around the green. It was one of the only weaknesses in the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion’s game.
But that’s no longer the case, at least not to that extreme. Entering the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession, Hovland has improved to 65th in that category, and his short game has been put to the test repeatedly this week at a course that features tight, grainy lies and slick, undulating, elevated greens.
“If you can chip out here,” Hovland said, “you can chip.”
On Saturday, Hovland holed about a 25-yard chip for birdie at the par-3 14th hole after earlier in the day getting a 45-yard wedge shot from the rough to drop for eagle at the par-5 seventh.
Viktor Hovland's wedges are dialed. 🔥
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 27, 2021
He is 8 of 13 scrambling this week, his strokes-gained stats skewed by a nightmare ending to his second round, when he played ping-pong around the ninth green after finding terrible lies in the bushes and back lip of a bunker.
If not for that quadruple-bogey 8 to end his day, Hovland would be in even better position at this WGC. But as it stands, he’s at 10-under 206, firmly in the top 10 but a half-dozen shots behind Collin Morikawa heading into the final round.
Hovland credited months of hard work with swing coach Jeff Smith, who has revamped Hovland’s action around the greens to eliminate the leading edge on chips and use more bounce.
“I wasn’t doing that before – it was all leading edge, which I could get away with in overseed or ryegrass, but out here you’re exposed immediately as soon as you get into any type of Bermuda into the grain,” Hovland said. “You have to catch it perfectly. Still got some work to do, but I’m hitting chips that I wouldn’t have been able to do before.”
Hovland cited his pitch shot on the par-5 third hole on Friday, when he missed left of the green, in the collection area well below the putting surface. From a tight lie on a downslope, he elevated his pitch into a front-left pin and got the ball to stop, leading to a birdie.
“It’s cool to see a couple of those shots,” he said.