While tournament host Tiger Woods initially predicted a birdie fest at the Albany course, some rains earlier in the week, coupled with ongoing gusty winds, is making for a much tougher test than expected.
Hovland did superbly on Friday, however, draining four birdies and holing out for an eagle at the par-5 sixth on the way to a two-under-par 70 that handed him a one-shot lead heading into the weekend, with his modest leading total of five-under-par 139 clear evidence that scoring has been much tougher than expected. The Norwegian is trying to become only the second player after Woods himself to win back-to-back Hero World Challenge titles. He can expect to face some tough competition over the weekend, however, with world number two Scottie Scheffler (68), two-time major winner Collin Morikawa (71), Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele (68) and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young (69) all lying just one shot behind. And if the winds don't die down soon, the players can expect more unpredictable conditions ahead.
"You're grinding on three-footers," Hovland told AFP. "It's windy and it's grainy, and the greens are fast so it's not like you can just ram the putts in, you've got to actually kind of die the putts in and that's when the wind can hit it a little bit harder.
"Some of the shots you might be short-sided, but you're into the wind so that makes certain shots easier, but at the same time you could have a basic up-and-down chip shot but straight downwind, you just don't know exactly how it's going to check and how much it's going to release depending on the wind gusts." In fact, despite leading the tournament, Hovland admitted he was not feeling comfortable out there. "But the ball's going straight, and I'm giving myself looks," he added. Schauffele and Scheffler's rounds of 68 were the best of the day. The latter could overtake Rory McIlroy at the top of the world rankings if he wins this week. "I don't like being number two, I don't like finishing second," Scheffler said. "Number one is obviously a place I'd like to get back to, but if we're not playing golf for a while, who knows what the world rankings are going to do. "It's definitely something nice to go back to, but I'm not going to be thinking about it when I'm on the golf course. Rising star Tom Kim lies in sixth place, two off the lead, after a second-round 72, while Justin Thomas is three back after a 70.
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