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Viktor Hovland, 21, continues stellar play, finishing fourth; up next is the Korn Ferry Finals


Viktor Hovland didn’t need to earn his PGA Tour card to prove that he belongs on the circuit. The quality of his play in his last four starts offered plenty of validation.

Unfortunately, FedEx Cup points usurp style points, so Hovland won’t be joining fellow All-Americans and new professional sensations Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa on the tour after each won a tour event in July.

At least not yet he won’t be joining them.

A final-round 65 Sunday in the Wyndham Championship earned Hovland his best finish yet, outright fourth place, but he needed no worse than a two-way tie for second in the final regular-season tournament to earn enough points as a non-member to advance to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

However, the 308 points he did collect in his five professional starts was the equivalent of 143rd in the points standings. That’s good enough to qualify for the three-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals that begin in two weeks at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, Ohio.

Hovland, 21, can earn a PGA Tour card by placing among the top 25 in money earnings in those three tournaments. Considering that there could be up to 150 players in each field – possible, but not likely – the task is far from easy, though certainly attainable if his form holds. (It’s not likely because some players who fell short of the top 125 like Brendan Steele and Austin Cook remain exempt because of victories last season, making the Finals unnecessary.)

“I feel like I’ve just playing better and better every single week, and obviously this is my best finish throughout the five tournaments that I played [as a pro],” the native of Oslo, Norway, said. “I’ve just got to keep it going in the Korn Ferry Finals and I should be OK.”

He’s probably not wrong in that prediction.

Hovland’s 19-under 261 total at Sedgefield Country Club, three strokes behind winner J.T. Poston, continued a scintillating scoring pattern that began with a final-round 64 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where he surged to a T-13 finish. Since then he has posted 12 straight rounds in the 60s. And he has shown to be especially clutch on Sunday, shooting 65 for T-13 at the 3M Open, 64 in placing T-16 at the John Deere Classic, and then, of course, converting eight birdies in his closing 65 at Sedgefield.

Too bad he didn’t get credit for his play in the Masters and U.S. Open. He was invited to the year’s first two majors via his victory in the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links, and he was more than just respectable. Hovland shot 3-under 285 at Augusta National to end up T-32, and then he returned to Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open and submitted a fine 4-under 280 total fueled by a final-round 4-under 67. He tied for 12th, one stroke out of the top-10 and an exemption into the 2020 championship.

RELATED: Viktor Hovland imitates Stephen A. Smith with legendary—and completely random—answer

“I already knew that it wasn’t going to count,” he said. “So, I mean, it is what it is. I just should have played a little bit better and it wouldn’t have been a problem. No, I don’t have any complaints.”

Hovland turned pro after the U.S. Open, where his fellow Oklahoma State teammate Wolff won the individual title, and made his debut at the Travelers Championship the week after the U.S. Open with Wolff, Morikawa and another All-American, Justin Suh. Hovland’s road to a tour card was abbreviated — just five events — because he burned two of his allotted seven exemptions earlier in the season at the Mayakoba Classic and the Farmers Insurance Open. Interestingly, he missed the cut in both playing as an amateur.

That was during a period when he knew he wasn’t playing well, struggling particularly with his iron game. Nevertheless, he won three times in his final collegiate season. The struggle might have steeled him for his surge this summer.

“I remember after I came back from Christmas break, just hitting balls inside for four weeks, I was lost,” Hovland said. “I didn’t know where the ball was going really, and I really didn’t feel like I was hitting the ball that great in college my last semester. But I got a lot better at just playing the game and scoring with what I had. In that way, I’ve been really happy with just how I’ve been able to perform with the things that I’ve been playing with.”

He should be happy. He converted 24 birdies at Sedgefield, ranked second in the field. He was first in strokes gained-off the tee with a combined 5.477 average against the field. Tee to green he ranked third, and he was T-4 in greens in regulation for the week, finding 60 of 72.

A player who has shot 63-under par collectively in his last four starts definitely is tour material.

Still, more work must be done. That’s the hard math of it.

“I’ve played pretty solid, just very consistent,” he said. “Shot a couple of good rounds or really low rounds, but mostly it’s just been very consistent. I think that gives me a lot of confidence going into the playoffs [Korn Ferry Finals] because there are three tournaments, and I know that if I just play my game, I should make it through.”



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Golf

Week of his life: Barron turns back clock with T-5 at The Senior Open



Doug Barron celebrated his 50th birthday with a last-minute trip to England to play links golf for the first time with some old friends.

Only this wasn’t the garden variety golf trip.

He flew to Manchester, drove to the Lancashire coast and played with Wes Short Jr. The last time they had played together was nearly seven years ago in the Jacksonville Open, the final event of the year on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour.

Two days later, Barron finished with three clutch putts at Fairhaven to qualify for the The Senior Open.

The day he turned 50 was the final practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where Barron and Dicky Pride took 20 pounds off Joe Durant and Scott Parel. The week ended with Barron closing with a 67 in the rain while playing with Colin Montgomerie to tie for fifth.

He made $72,960, his largest paycheck in 13 years.

And the most memorable part of an unforgettable week was after it ended. Barron walked into the locker room and saw Tom Watson, who had just concluded 45 years of competing in the British Open and Senior British Open.

”He told me, ‘Good playing today,’ and it brought tears to my eyes,” Barron said. ”He was my hero growing up.”

Golf has not always been this good to Barron.

Ten years ago, he became a footnote in PGA Tour history as the first player suspended under the Anti-Doping Policy. Oddly enough, Barron was loving life at The Senior Open the same week as a World Golf Championship at the TPC Southwind in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

It was at the TPC Southwind where he played his final PGA Tour event on a sponsor exemption in 2009 and was randomly selected for drug testing.

Barron had been on beta blockers since a mitral valve prolapse as a teenager. In 2006, doctors found his testosterone level to be that of an 80-year-old man, and he began taking a steroid to get his levels normal. Golf began drug testing in 2008, and Barron was denied a therapeutic use exemption. He was so miserable for eight months that he took one injection three weeks before playing in Memphis. The drug test came back positive.

Instead of appealing, he sued. The case was resolved out of court.

Barron was never competitive when he returned, mainly because of five shoulder surgeries. His last full year on the developmental circuit was in 2012, and then he effectively fired himself. Enough of tour life. He had missed too much time at home and wasn’t going anywhere.

He became a medical rep for British-based Smith & Nephew, but that wasn’t for him.

”I quit right after I passed corporate training,” Barron said with a laugh.

Instead, he asked a longtime friend to take a chance on him giving golf lessons at Windyke Country Club. He taught for six years when another opportunity came up in the credit card processing business.

That allowed him to play more golf, and that’s when he hooked up with Shaun Webb at the David Toms 265 Golf Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana.

”He was struggling with his swing,” Webb said. ”He went from zero confidence in the driver to now driving the ball as good as he ever has.”

And it showed.

Barron began posting scores in the low 60s. He won three times on the Emerald Coast Tour. Against bigger fields with younger kids, he could make the cut but little more. He wanted to feel nervous. Some of the Emerald Coast Tour events had 40 players. He could handle that, even if his biggest paycheck for winning was $8,000.

”I wanted to play where I could win,” he said.

But it got him to thinking: Why not the PGA Tour Champions? Just his luck, he turned 50 the day before The Senior Open.

”I talked to my wife, and she said to go for it,” Barron said. ”My wife has been my biggest supporter. She’s an artist, the true talent. She makes a great living and she enjoys it. I didn’t enjoy the PGA Tour. I took myself too seriously back then.”

This was different. His father is in a hospice suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease. His oldest son is headed off to college. Barron has a new outlook on golf, a newfound confidence in his game and a better chance playing against guys his own age than on mini-tours loaded with powerful young talent.

”He has a ton of belief in himself,” Webb said. ”He told me, ‘I think I’m ready, I’m going to compete.’ I said, ‘I think you are, too.”’

Barron headed to England on a whim and wound up on television – his name on the leaderboard, shots he hit on the golf course.

”I enjoyed the hell out of my week,” he said.

Barron didn’t get much more than a nice check, though. Even after a tie for fifth in a major – four shots behind Bernhard Langer – he has to go through pre-qualifying before he can enter Monday qualifying for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in two weeks.

He has written for a sponsor’s exemption, and there are five more tournaments after that.

Barron wrote a Facebook post that included his picture with Watson and words that summed up a feeling he wouldn’t have thought possible in golf 10 years ago.

”I can’t think of a better week in my life.”



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