DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Viktor Hovland was happy with his three PGA Tour victories, even if they were at resort courses that were soft and susceptible to firing at flags. He wanted a win on American soil, where par was at a premium, and he got every bit of that Sunday at the Memorial.
Two shots behind and facing the three hardest holes at Muirfield Village, Hovland, the Oklahoma State grad who still lives in Stillwater and practices at Karsten Creek, set his sights on a score instead of the leader, Denny McCarthy, and then delivered his best stuff of the day.
Hovland holed a 30-foot birdie putt — the only birdie of the day at No. 17 — around two par saves for a 2-under 70 that got him into a playoff, and then he beat the hard-luck McCarthy with a 7-foot par to win the Memorial.
His previous three wins were twice at Mayakoba on the Gulf coast of Mexico and once in Puerto Rico. This victory came on conditions so difficult that even Jack Nicklaus was stunned to feel how firm the greens were when he stepped on the 18th to congratulate Hovland.
“It feels really cool to get my first win on the U.S. soil, especially at a tournament like this where this the golf course is arguably harder than most major championship golf courses we play,” Hovland said. “It felt like a major. So it was really cool that I was able to get it done at a place like this.”
It was a crushing loss for McCarthy, one of the purest putters on the PGA Tour. He showed his touch by saving crucial pars and playing bogey-free on a day when the average score was just under 75. His only bogey came on the 18th hole — twice.
McCarthy had a one-shot lead when he missed the 18th fairway to the left, pitched out to the fairway and narrowly missed a 25-foot par putt for the win. In the playoff, his shot from the right rough rolled back off the green some 50 yards away. He pitched to 12 feet and the putt caught the left edge and spun away.
“I’m heartbroken right now,” McCarthy said, emotion in his voice after his closest call to win on the PGA Tour in his 156th attempt.
Hovland hit the front of the green, and his 60-foot putt stopped 7 feet short, still uphill and with much less break than his 5-footer in regulation to get in the playoff.
“I was shaking more in regulation,” Hovland said.
The 25-year-old from Norway won $3.6 million and moved to No. 5 in the world ranking with his fourth PGA Tour victory, and eighth worldwide since turning pro four years ago out of Oklahoma State.
This was a final day when so many went in reverse from the 22 players who had been separated by three shots at the start of the round.
Rory McIlroy chipped in from below the fourth green for birdie and had the lead on the front nine, but he gave away far too many shots on the back — three bogeys in a row — for a 75 that took him out of the picture.
Scottie Scheffler closed with a 67 and finished third and missed the playoff by one shot, remarkable considering he made the cut on the number. The No. 1 player in the world has not finished worse than 12th in his 13 starts this year.
But what a week to forget with the putter.
Scheffler turned a statistically dominant performance from tee-to-green, picking up 20.7 strokes on the field in that category. But he lost 8.5 strokes to the field in his putting. This might be the best context — it was nearly a 20-shot differential in putting to McCarthy, and Scheffler finished one shot behind.
“I think a little bit of my struggles with the putting have probably helped me elevate my ball striking, just because if I’m trying to compete out here … with the putts not going in, I’ve got to hit it really good. And I’ve been able to do that,” Scheffler said.
“Maybe people are asking me about my putting so much more because I’m hitting it so good,” he said. “When you’re hitting a bunch of greens it’s not easy to make every putt. I mean, if I was putting the best this week, I would have won by a crazy amount of shots.”
That belonged to Hovland, who joined McCarthy (70) at 7-under 281.
Hovland didn’t feel as though he did anything special. He has had better weeks striking the ball. His lowest round was 69. But he was the only player to break par in all four rounds.
“I played smart. I played my game. And I came up clutch this time,” Hovland said.
He was particularly strong at the end. The final three were the toughest at Muirfield Village all week. Hovland birdied two of the three on Saturday to get in the mix, and he played them 1 under on Sunday to get into a playoff.
Si Woo Kim, who played in the last group with McIlroy, had a 73 to finish alone in fourth. Jordan Spieth was in the group another shot back.