Sun, 10 Dec 2023

Nassau [Bahamas], December 2 (ANI): Viktor Hovland grabbed a dramatic win in the Bahamas last year as he pulled the rug under the feet of Colling Morikawa, who led by five shots coming into the final round of the World Challenge. A year on, the two friends sharing a house this week, have been paired together for the first round. Morikawa comes in as a newly married man and Hovland is seeking to bring more consistency into his game.

The duo headlines a field that is an exotic mix of Major winners, winners of signature events on either side of the Atlantic and a group of exciting youngsters, who are waiting at the door for the big breakthrough that seems to be within their reach.

Hovland recalled his win last year saying, "Speaking of the finish from last year, I'm sure he's (Morikawa) a little bit upset about that, but he's going to be in that spot many, many more times and just sometimes you're going to finish that way, but in this case most of the time he's probably going to finish it off. OK, I got maybe the upper hand on that one, but he might get one back the next time. Certainly won't be giving him any gifts for that."Staying together also meant that the young duo did some catching up, as Hovland said, "I was not at the wedding, but we're staying together this week. Sounded like it was a pretty good wedding. Went to dinner with JJ, his caddie, and heard a lot of stuff about it, it sounded like it was a good weekend."Then there is Jon Rahm, who these days says what he feels. He has always done that, but it is getting noticed much more these days. Asked if there was a time when he realized that his opinion was beginning to matter more seriously than before, he smilingly shot back, "Oh, this is a clear moment, very clear. The second I won the U.S. Open apparently I got all the credibility I needed. Before that, nobody cared. I got COVID, Memorial happened, then I won the U.S. Open and all of a sudden my opinion matters, that's kind of how it went. I don't know if I became a leader then or not. It's just I feel like the public and not necessarily saying you guys, maybe some media outlets, listened a little bit more to what I was saying."Asked to comment on a year, during which he did not win a Major but had some great results, Rahm said, "Listen, it's not a bad year. I won three times worldwide and my percentage of top-10s has stayed close to fifty per cent. I guess compared to my last few years you can categorize it as bad, but it really isn't, right? I would have had to play a heck of a year to maintain No. 1 with the way some of the players have played.

It is what it is. I mean, it's not easy to get there. Is it a bad year? No. Could it have been better? Yes. I think the only thing I would be thinking about to be better is my major championship performances being better. I made the cut, yes, but on three of them I was non-existent on the weekend and I really don't like that."Scottie Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion and Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Green Jacket winner, will go out together as will the highly consistent Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele. Justin Thomas, who was expected to be paired with Tiger Woods, will now have to do so with Sepp Straka, who replaced Woods following the legend and this week's host, withdrawal due to plantar fasciitis.

Englishmen Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood have great years, the former picked his first Major at the US Open and Fleetwood, who famously got married on the beaches of the Bahamas some years back, won recently in South Africa ending a long title drought.

There are seven first-timers at Albany, but none more refreshing than Tom Kim, whose real Korean name is Kim Joo-Hyung, but is called 'Tom Kim' for his fascination with the 'Thomas the Tank Engine' when he was a youngster. He just turned 20 in June but has already won twice on the PGA Tour after a fairy-tale entry into the world's biggest Tour.

Then there is Cameron Young, the rookie of the year in 2021-22, who plays like a seasoned veteran with seven Top-3 finishes in 2021-22 and also played the President's Cup alongside Tom Kim. And yes, they are paired together, too.

In short, each of the 10 pairings are exciting. The field of 20 has seven winners, four players who have been World No. 1 and a couple of who have come close to it, an Olympic gold medallist and a bunch who have played for either US or Europe at the Ryder Cup and some others have also been at the President's Cup. It does not get any better or stronger than this. (ANI)

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