Viktor Hovland seeks rare three-peat down in Mexico at Mayakoba

Not to diminish his achievement, but the most memorable part of Norway’s Viktor Hovland winning back-to-back titles at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba has been listening to the passionate and emphatic calls of Per Haugsrud and Henrik Bjornstad for Eurosport Norway.

“He makes it again! Our boy,” Bjornstad exclaimed in 2020. “Look how ice cold he is. He’s unreal that kid! What a star.”

Pull it up on YouTube if you haven’t heard them as words don’t do it justice. Even for Hovland, it holds special significance, especially having Bjornstad, who was the first Norwegian golfer to play the PGA Tour, on the call. When Hovland was 13 years old and growing up in Oslo, Bjornstad retired from the pro ranks and took over coaching Norway’s elite junior team.

“I was a little starstruck,” Hovland said. “A few years later he’s commentating my wins on Tour. I think that was pretty cool. Obviously the emotions there were very genuine. It’s cool to listen to.”

Bjornstad and his cohort might lose their collective minds if the 25-year-old Hovland wins again at El Camaleón Golf Course at Mayakoba in Riviera Maya, Mexico. The last player to win a single Tour event three years in a row is Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic (2009, 2010, 2011), and in the last 40 seasons on the Tour only three players have done so – Tiger Woods (an astounding six different times) and Stuart Appleby at the Sentry Tournament of Champions (2004-06) are the others.

“I loved it even before winning it two times,” Hovland said during his pre-tournament interview on Wednesday. “To come back here as a two-time champion is very special. Yeah, see if I can add another one this week.”

Viktor Hovland of Norway celebrates with the trophy on the 18th green after winning the 2021 World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba on El Camaleon golf course in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Hovland considers El Camaleon, a par-71 layout playing to 7,017 yards, one of the few courses where the fourth-year pro feels like a veteran. He played the World Amateur Team Championship there in 2016 when Norway had its best finish, a T-5, and made his PGA Tour debut as an amateur there in 2018 and missed the cut by a stroke. The next year, as a pro, he missed the cut by a stroke. The last two year’s he’s gotten revenge. In 2020, Hovland was seven strokes back after 36 holes and said to his caddie, “I wish I could have one of those weeks where I put the putting and the long game together,” he recalled. “If I could do that, I’d be fighting for a win.”

He stuck to his game plan, and everything clicked. He birdied the 72nd hole to defeat Aaron Wise by a shot, becoming the fifth European player since World War II to win multiple PGA Tour titles before turning 24 (joining Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, and Jon Rahm.) It also sent the Norwegian broadcast team into a state of heightened adolescent excitement.

“We had a collective headache after he was finished,” Bjornstad said.

Last year, Hovland set a tournament record, shooting a 72-hole total of 23-under, despite having his driver shaft snap on the range on the eve of the tournament.

“When something like that happens, you just kind of go, oh, man, come on, like really, is that gonna happen?” he said.

It barely slowed Hovland down. He borrowed a shaft from fellow pro James Hahn, shot 62 in the third round and matched the tournament record in margin of victory (four shots), after winning on 20-under the previous year. He’s led the field in birdies (28 and 25) the last two seasons.

Hovland, who helped Oklahoma State win the 2018 NCAA title on its home course, Karsten Creek, in Stillwater, compared doing so to the pressure of trying to three-peat in Mexico.

“People were kind of expecting us to win and we were certainly expecting to win as well. And being at home, it can work to your advantage, but at the same time it can also be an added pressure,” he said. “I think it comes back to if you’re feeling really confident about your game, I think the heightened pressure can kind of help you because it just almost hyper-focuses you to perform that week, but if you don’t have the skills to back it up for that week, it can also go the other way to where you’re trying to force things instead of it kind of naturally happening. I think it all depends on where the state of your game is. I certainly don’t see it as a disadvantage this week.”