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Hovland bucks storm, Schauffele for PGA crown

VIKTOR Hovland collects his sixth PGA Tour title, three of them came this season. | MIKE EHRMANN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ATLANTA (AFP) — Viktor Hovland outdueled Xander Schauffele through Sunday’s storm-hit final round to win the US PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship, capturing the $18-million FedEx Cup top prize by five strokes.

The 25-year-old Norwegian fired a bogey-free seven-under par 63 to stand on 27-under after 72 holes at East Lake in Atlanta while American Schauffele was second after matching his season-low round with a 62.

“It’s just pretty surreal standing here right now, playing basically my best golf the last two weeks,” said Hovland as he held the playoff trophy.

“It couldn’t have happened at a better moment.”

World No.5 Hovland shook off a storm delay of one hour and 53 minutes early in his round that dumped nearly half an inch of rain, making four birdies in the first six holes to fight off the reigning Olympic champion.

Starting scores in the FedEx Cup playoff finale were staggered based on season points, with top-ranked Scottie Scheffler at 10-under, Hovland next at 8-under and Schauffele on 3-under.

Hovland made up the deficit in the first round and charged from there.

Schauffele, winless this season, opened with seven birdies in the first 12 holes but settled for the $6.5 million runner-up prize from a $75 million bonus pool.

“The game plan before starting today was middle of the green, make a lot of pars and make Xander get after it, which he did early so I had to change my game plan a little bit,” Hovland said.

Schauffele sank an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-3 11th and a 12-foot birdie putt at 12 to pull within three to set up the late drama.

Hovland stayed three ahead by sinking a pressure-packed 23-foot putt — his longest of the week — to save par at the 14th.

“I was happy I didn’t make a bogey,” Hovland said.

“I was staring at five on 14. When that putt went in, that was just huge for momentum because two shots with four holes to go is a lot different from three shots.”

“That was just a big one for momentum and after that I really relaxed.”

Hovland curled in a birdie putt at 16 from just beyond 10 feet — his first birdie since the sixth hole — and sank a 12-foot birdie putt at 17 to seize a five-stroke edge and seal the triumph.

“He played great. I didn’t do enough,” Schauffele said. “I thought 62 would have let me get close to him, but the closest I got was three shots back. He played unbelievably well. He made important putts and he’s just played like a champ.”

“I’ll hold my head up high. It was the most fun I had losing in quite some time. It’s such a weird feeling. I shot 62. I lost by five. Just kudos to Havi.”

It was the sixth career PGA Tour victory for Hovland, who also won the Memorial and last week’s BMW Championship this season and managed his best major showing, a runner-up finish at the PGA Championship.

Combined with his victory last week, Hovland’s back-to-back triumphs and those by Lucas Glover the prior two weeks at Greensboro and Memphis marked the first time since 1950 the PGA Tour had consecutive back-to-back event winners.

American Wyndham Clark, the US Open winner, was third on 16-under after closing on 65 with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland fourth on 14-under after a 65 and American Patrick Cantlay fifth on 13-under after firing 66.

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