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Hovland overcomes Tiger anxiety, tied for first at the Masters

Viktor Hovland Viktor Hovland - The Canadian Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — When Viktor Hovland learned he’d be playing the first two rounds of the Masters with Tiger Woods, his heart started to race and his anxiety level spiked.

“My heart kind of went a little bit further up in the throat,” Hovland said, knowing the inherent pressure of playing alongside the five-time champion Thursday and in front of the gigantic crowds that follow Woods.

Then he decided to embrace the challenge, thinking to himself this would be “exciting.”

“You can’t be scared or anything like that," Hovland said. "If you want to win this tournament, you can’t be scared about playing with Tiger. So you’ve just got to overcome things like that.”

The 25-year-old Hovland did that and more.

Wearing a colorful golf shirt that blended well with the azaleas at Augusta National, the Norwegian shot a bogey-free 65 to claim a share of the early first round lead with Jon Rahm and LIV golfer Brooks Koepka.

Hovland, the ninth-ranked player in the world, bested Woods by nine shots behind an eagle at No. 2 and seven birdies. Woods shot 74 after bogeying the 18th hole.

Hovland has won seven career tournaments, but never a major.

He finished tied for 27th at last year’s Masters and had never broke 70 in his previous 12 rounds at Augusta National.

“He showed the kind of player he is," said Shay Knight, Hovland's caddie. “Shooting 7 under around this place is pretty impressive.”

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Hovland played so well when Woods was involved.

When Woods won the Masters in 2019, Hovland was the low amateur. And Hovland also twice won at the Hero World Challenge, a tournament in the Bahamas hosted by Woods.

Early on in the round, it was Hovland's bright shirt rather than his impressive play that caught the attention of golf fans on social media.

“I had nothing to do with it I just wear what they tell me to wear,” Hovland said with a hearty laugh, referring to his sponsor, the J. Lindeberg Brand. “I mean, it’s definitely a little bit out there, but I think I’d rather take these than the pink pants I wore last year. So we’re making progress.”

So too is his game.

Now he wants to continue that momentum moving forward when he plays with Woods and Xander Schauffele again on Friday.

“To shoot a 65 bogey-free out here, some things have to go your way,” Hovland said. “It’s not like you can just step up and have that handed to you. So I definitely had some things go my way today but also hit a lot of great shots.”


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