Viktor Hovland’s colorful week ends in another major heartbreak

Viktor Hovland looks on during the final round of the 2023 PGA Championship.

Viktor Hovland finished in the top seven for the third straight major.

Darren Riehl/GOLF

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Much of the attention surrounding Viktor Hovland this week centered on his clothes. But that may have distracted from his actual game.

His apparel sponsor trotted him out in a bright orange polo, then bright orange pants and then more bright orange polos.

Every day, whether it was fans, reporters or broadcasters, someone said something to him about his outfits.

But throughout the week he downplayed the attire. When GOLF’s Dylan Dethier told him golf fans probably don’t have the right to say anything about his get-ups, he responded with the same amount of color as his wardrobe.

“I don’t give a sh** anyways,” he said. He was cheeky about it in a way that mirrored his typical chipper attitude.

But he backed it up by playing like he didn’t care. In fact, that’s why so many people were seeing his outfits in the first place.

For the third major in a row, he had a chance to win the thing going into the final round. But unlike the Masters and the 2022 Open Championship, Hovland was right in the thick of it until the very end.

His closing birdie on the 18th brought him into a share of second place with Scottie Scheffler, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story. Nor do any of his five birdies Sunday which helped reduce his deficit to Brooks Koepka, which at one point was three, back down to just one as they played the final four holes.

Then he arrived at 16.

You probably already know what happened by now, but in short:

Tee shot into the bunker. Second shot embedded in the bunker face, a repeat of Corey Conners a day earlier. A free drop. A chip out. Three more swings, adding up to a double-bogey-6.

When the 16-footer dropped on 18, he lost to Koepka by just two shots. He barely reacted.

When he arrived in scoring, the smile he almost always wears around the media was gone. His bright orange shirt might as well have been grey.

Then he stood and waited for CBS producers to give Dottie Pepper the go-ahead to tape his post-round interview. He just wanted the day to end.

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Pros don’t have to speak to reporters after their rounds, they are allowed to pick and chose their media obligations. After the delayed interview, he was whisked to the player interview room. He said this would be his final stop.

He had no time to go back and process what he had just gone through. No time to think about what he could have done differently. No time to think over his decision on the 16th.

But he took solace in one fact; he’s trending up.

Before last summer’s Open championship, his best finish in a major was still his T12 performance in the 2019 U.S. Open — when he was still an amateur. Now he has two top-5s and a T7 at Augusta.

“It sucks right now, but it is really cool to see that things are going in the right direction,” he said.  “First place is a lot better than tied for second, but it is fun to even just have a chance to [win] one of these.”

For so long, Hovland had been criticized, even at times during his three PGA Tour victories, for having a weak short game. But Sunday that looked like a thing of the past.

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That’s no small feat at Oak Hill where greens are defended by everything you can think of from thick rough, tightly mowed and steep runoffs and deep, grass-faced bunkers.

He made just the one bogey and the double on the day and both had nothing to do with misplayed chip shots. He was third in the field in strokes gained: around the green in the final round, reinforcing what he had said all week, that his short game was also trending in the right direction.

“I didn’t hit every single green out there and had some bad swings and left myself in some spots where I had to rely on my short game,” he said. “I thought I did. If I wouldn’t have gotten those up and down, at least I wouldn’t even have a shot coming down the stretch.”

He did it all while being in contention too, in the final group of a major, no less. At the 2022 Open, he was flat the entire day, falling three behind at the turn before losing by six.

Sunday was much different. Although he never held a share of the lead, he fought back, even as his playing partner, Koepka, birdied three out of the first four holes. Hovland responded by birding two in a row and allowing Koepka to fall to just a shot ahead of him when he drove it in the water on 6.

Just when it seemed Koepka was ready to seal the deal with a birdie on 12, Hovland rallied again with birdies on 13 and 14.

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“Brooks is a great player, and now he has five majors,” Hovland said of the champion. “I mean, that’s a hell of a record right there. It’s not easy going toe to toe with a guy like that. He is not going to give you anything, and I didn’t really feel like I gave him anything either until 16.

“I feel like I belong out here, and I just have got to get a little bit better, and hopefully it goes my way the next time.”

His fellow players feel he belongs too. And they’re taking note.

“He’s putting himself in position, right?” Rory McIlroy said. “Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors, but he finished second 19 times. So it’s all about putting yourself in position and giving yourself chances. The more chances you give yourself, the more probability one is going to fall your way.”

That was exactly how Hovland felt too. The close calls just keep telling him he’s on the right track.

 “If I just keep taking care of my business and just keep working on what I’ve been doing, I think we’re going to get one of these soon,” he said. “There’s another one coming up pretty soon.”

Jack Hirsh Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at