Viktor Hovland did more than win the FedEx Cup playoffs with his performance at East Lake over four sunbaked days.
Hovland inserted himself into the select group of players who occupy spots at the top of the game. His five-stroke victory over Xander Schauffele reflected the separation Hovland has achieved at the culmination of the PGA Tour season, earning himself the $18 million playoff bonus.
Starting the staggered scoring system at 8-under par, Hovland put together rounds of 68-64-66-63 for a finishing total of 27-under. His 261 actual score equaled Schauffele, who picked up his third runner-up finish in the season finale to go with one victory, in 2017.
“I thought 62 would have let me get close to him, but I think the closest I got to was three shots back,” Schauffele said. “He played unbelievably well. He made important putts, and he's just played like a champ.”
Having seen a seven-stroke advantage dwindle to three midway through the closing nine, Hovland holed a crucial 23-foot par putt on the 14th hole to steady himself and then dashed Schauffele’s hopes with three closing birdies.
For Hovland, who shot a brilliant final-round 61 to win the BMW Championship a week earlier, the blistering finish is validation for changes he made in his game earlier this year.
“To sum it up just throughout the year, I feel like obviously [my] short game has improved massively, course management has been a big deal, I'm not short-siding myself as much as I used to, and just handling adversity a lot better because I believe in my game and if I hit one bad shot or make one mistake it's not the end of the world. I keep pressing on, I keep making birdies, and suddenly we're back in it again,” said Hovland, who also won the Memorial Tournament in June.
“Before, it felt like, man, I have to not give up any shots to shoot a good round of golf. Whereas, now that's not true anymore. I can hit one bad and I can get up-and-down and move on and birdie the next three and then suddenly we're right there.”
With his third victory this summer, Hovland, 25, of Norway, also inserted himself into the player-of-the-year conversation, which had been limited to Jon Rahm (four wins, including the Masters) and Scottie Scheffler (two wins, including the Players Championship).
For Schauffele, who has shot par or better in 28 consecutive tournament rounds at East Lake, his closing rush wasn’t quite good enough.
“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,” Schauffele said.
“Just kudos to Hovi. He played unbelievably well the last few weeks to get himself into this position and to really just put a cherry on top for himself and his team.”
Wyndham Clark capped his breakout season with a third-place finish at East Lake followed by Rory McIlroy in fourth and Patrick Cantlay in fifth.
Whether the final event of the tour season brought any clarity to captain Zach Johnson’s six Ryder Cup captain’s picks won’t be known until he makes the announcement Tuesday morning.
Collin Morikawa tied for sixth, and Sam Burns finished T9 with Keegan Bradley to further bolster their cases. Rickie Fowler (T16), Lucas Glover (T18) and Jordan Spieth (27th) also are expected to be considered for captain’s picks.
Ron Green Jr.