Golf: Holland comes into U.S. Open with confidence

Published 5:27 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

By STEVE REED AP Sports Writer

PINEHURST— Viktor Hovland has a renewed confidence entering the U.S. Open that he can compete — and possibly win — his first major championship after a morale-boosting third-place finish at the PGA Championship last month.

He said Tuesday that’s a “night and day” difference from two months ago, when he missed the cut at the Masters after a disastrous second-round 81 at Augusta National.

“I was pretty miserable leaving the Masters,” Hovland said. “I think that’s just one of those things where you kind of have to hit whatever rock bottom … because that’s when you pull yourself out of it and make some decisions to course correct.”

He appears to have put his slump behind him.

After the Masters, the 26-year-old Norwegian shot a final-round 69 at Quail Hollow to finish tied for 24th, then carried that small bit of momentum over to Valhalla, where posted a 66 in each of the final three rounds to finish at 18-under 266, three shots behind winner Xander Schauffele.

He had a chance to pull into a tie for the lead but missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole.

Still, he chose to walk away thinking about the positives, especially considering he didn’t feel entering the PGA that his game was good enough to contend. He tied for 15th in the Memorial last week before arriving at Pinehurst No. 2.

“The context of not really wanting to show up at a golf tournament because I just knew it wasn’t good enough, to, wow, I actually just had a chance to win a major championship without my best stuff,” Hovland said. “Yes, you don’t get endless amounts of opportunities to win major championships, so obviously when you’re in the heat of the moment, you want to take advantage of those. But at the end of the day I’m just happy that I’m playing better.”

SUPERSTITIOUS KAYMERWhen Martin Kaymer began planning his trip to Pinehurst, he made sure to reserve the same room at the same hotel where he stayed 10 years ago, when he won the U.S. Open by eight shots.

“I don’t know if it helps,” the 39-year-old Kaymer said. “It cannot hurt, I guess. I’m a little bit superstitious when it comes down to that. I think, regardless, it’s going to be a really nice week.”

Kaymer said the course has changed a lot since 2014, when he blew away the field by relying, in part, on his mastery of the “Texas wedge” — aka the putter — when he missed the turtleback greens of Donald Ross’ famed design.

“To be honest, I was a little bit overwhelmed this morning when I played the first four or five holes,” Kaymer said after Tuesday’s practice round. “I said to my caddie, ‘Was it that hard 10 years ago? Was it that difficult to hit the greens in the first place and then make the up-and-downs?’”

BRYSON’S BALANCEBryson DeChambeau is known for his enormous drives, but he knows it will be prudent at times to leave the driver in the bag at Pinehurst, a course that calls for pinpoint approach shots.

“It stinks hitting a 6-iron off the tee compared to a driver, but sometimes you’ve got to do it and you’ve got to make the right decision for shooting the lowest score out here,” DeChambeau said.

He pointed to the par-4 third as one hole that could tempt him.

“I may go for it — I don’t know, you never know with me,” DeChambeau said. “Certainly on the tee box if it’s downwind I’ll give it a go, probably. But maybe just hit a 6-iron out there, or 7. Hitting an iron out there and playing some very strategic golf is certainly something you have to do on this golf course to compete and win.”

MURRAY REMEMBEREDGrayson Murray, a PGA Tour player and Raleigh native who died on May 25, was memorialized with a plaque inside the players’ locker room at Pinehurst that read, “The USGA remembers Grayson and pays tribute to the playing accomplishments that merited his place in the 124th U.S. Open Championship.”

The message added “Be kind to one another,” a request his mother made after revealing that Murray had taken his own life.

Murray died one day after he withdrew from the second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial. He won in Hawaii in January and had already qualified for the U.S. Open.