ATLANTA — Viktor Hovland started the day two shots back of Scottie Scheffler, but by the end of the round Thursday, the tables had turned.
The par-3, 15th is one of the most pivotal holes at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA. It’s a downhill tee shot onto a peninsula green that is anxiety-inducing.
“I think everyone gets a little anxiety when they step on 15 tee box. But that was the shot of the day for me, so I handled that pretty well,” Hovland said after his round.
Meanwhile, Scheffler put his tee shot on 15 into the drink. He would go on to three-putt and triple bogey the hole. That dropped him out of the lead, propping the 2023 Memorial winner into it.
“Obviously bogey-free is always nice, especially around this track,” Hovland said. “I did feel like I left a couple putts out there — yeah, I felt like I played a little bit better than the score, but hopefully that comes tomorrow or the rest of the week.”
The 25-year-old went out in 35 but made his first birdie on the par-4 10th. His only other birdie came on the par-4 13th.
Hovland settled for five straight pars down the stretch.
“You want to make a lot of birdies and separate yourself,” Hovland said. “That’s not always so easy.”
“So it’s a lot easier just to make a lot of pars — keep it stress-free. Then when the putter starts getting hot, then you can feel like you can put four, five, six birdies together in a span of nine holes. That’s definitely doable out here. But it’s so easy to go the opposite way as well. That’s what makes this place such a great golf course.”
The five-time PGA Tour winner stayed aggressive but at the same time knew when to dial in that fire. He was conservative at times, but it wasn’t him playing safely — it’s strategy.
Ahead of the tournament, Hovland noted how confident and at peace he was with his game. Thursday at the Tour Championship was no different as the Norwegian stuck to his plan.
“I did feel really relaxed. Even though I kept on hitting great shots and didn’t really get rewarded for it, I didn’t freak out or lose my mind or take a chance that I wasn’t supposed to take,” Hovland said. “I stayed patient — yeah, I would have liked to have kept making a few birdies, especially with that start I had on the back nine there. Just didn’t keep it going.”
Scheffler and Hovland will stay paired together for the second round of the Tour Championship. They tee off at 1:49 p.m. ET ahead of Morikawa and Bradley at 2 p.m.
Savannah Leigh Richardson is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow her on Twitter @SportsGirlSL and Instagram @savannah_leigh_sports for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.