Comparing streaks of sub-70 rounds for Hovland, Estes
By DOUG FERGUSON
Viktor Hovland tied the PGA Tour record on Sunday at The Greenbrier with his 17th consecutive round in the 60s, closing with a 64 to tie for 10th. He matched the mark set by Bob Estes in the fall of 2001, and it could shed some light on how much golf at the highest level has changed in two decades.
Both had every round in the 60s at four straight tournaments. Hovland's streak started with a 64 in the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, while Estes' streak ended with a 63 in the final round at Las Vegas when it was a five-round tournament.
Estes had a scoring average of 67.29 during his streak. His worst finish was a tie for eighth in the Air Canada Championship. He was a runner-up in the Canadian Open to Scott Verplank (two days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks), tied for third at the Texas Open and won Las Vegas.
In the three events he did not win, Estes finished a combined 18 shots out of the lead.
Hovland's scoring average in his streak is 66.59, nearly three-quarters of a shot lower. However, his best finish during his streak was a tie for fourth in the Wyndham Championship. He tied for 13th in the 3M Open in Minnesota and tied for 16th in the John Deere Classic. He finished a combined 25 shots out of the lead.
It could be another illustration that low scores don't go as far as they used to.
Hovland, who is playing the European Tour this week, was surprised that the streak wasn't longer. He also isn't sure how much longer his can last.
"I turned pro out of school in the summer, and I don't know how the other golf courses we play out there for the other half of the season, but we've been playing courses that have been pretty gettable - not a whole lot of wind and greens have been fairly soft."
Then again, no one else in those four tournaments has put together a streak like this.
"I've just played pretty consistently," he said. "So yeah, it's been a pretty cool ride."
Joaquin Niemann won A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier to become the first player from Chile to win on the PGA Tour and reach No. 50 in the world.
That wasn't the only country to celebrate a breakthrough last week.
Adrian Meronk birdied two of his last three holes in Portugal for a two-shot victory, making the 26-year-old the first player from Poland to win on the Challenge Tour. He moved to No. 7 on the Road to Mallorca, leaving him in good shape over the final six events to become the first Polish player to join the European Tour.
"I couldn't be prouder of myself for being the first Polish winner on the Challenge Tour," he said. "I've been getting a lot of messages from friends back home ... I've been pretty consistent this year and I've been playing well, especially at the start of the season, but I just couldn't finish it off. That's why I'm very relieved right now because it's finally happened."
Meronk now is No. 263 in the world ranking. Only one other Polish player, Mateusz Gradecki, has earned ranking points this year. Gradecki, who won on the Pro Golf Tour last year, has made three out of 14 cuts on the Challenge Tour in 2019. He is at No. 691.
Rory Hie became the first player from Indonesia to win on the Asian Tour, going wire-to-wire in the Classic Golf and Country Club International Championship in India. The 31-year-old Hie climbed to No. 649. He is among four Indonesians to earn ranking points this year.
The PGA Tour had three of the top 25 players in the world for the season opener at The Greenbrier. Brandt Snedeker at No. 41 is the highest-ranked player in Mississippi this week for the Sanderson Farms Championship.
It should start picking up next week when the tour moves to California for the Safeway Open in Napa.
Among those who have committed to play are Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau and Adam Scott. That gives the Safeway Open five of the top 15 players in the world, along with Phil Mickelson, whose management company runs the event.
The tournament is in a much better spot in the schedule compared with last year, when it began four days after the Ryder Cup in France, and 11 days after the previous season ended at the Tour Championship.
"When the PGA Tour moved the schedule up this past year, we were hopeful that the result would be more top players playing," said Jeff Sanders, president of Lagardere Sports Golf Events.
Along with top players from the world ranking, the field also will feature Fred Couples in a rare PGA Tour start. The Safeway Open also extended an unrestricted sponsor exemption to former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Bettors don't have as much faith in Tiger Woods as they did in April.
Right after Woods won the Masters for the fifth time - his 15th major - Westgate Superbook listed him as the 8-1 favorite to win at Augusta National in 2020. Five months later, Woods was listed at 16-1, with Brooks Koepka (9-1) and Rory McIlroy (10-1) the leading favorites.
Woods missed the cut at the PGA Championship and British Open, tied for 21st in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and did not reach the Tour Championship.
Westgate Superbook also listed him at 2-1 that he would win more than 15 majors on the night after he won the Masters. This week, the odds were 3-1.
Shane Lowry is the 56th player to receive honorary life membership on the European Tour.
The honor is typical of players who win major championships. Lowry won the British Open in its return to Northern Ireland after 68 years, winning by six shots at Royal Portrush. It was his fifth European Tour victory, which includes the Irish Open in 2009 when he was an amateur.
"I've obviously joined a nice list of names," Lowry said Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship. "My heart lies with the European Tour. I'll always be a member. I love coming back and I love playing in events like this. So it's an extreme privilege to receive this."
Patrick Cantlay is among several players who preach one shot at a time. He's the only one who has said he takes his cue from Bjorn Borg.
Cantlay, whose nose is in books when he's not on the range, says of the biographies he has read, he "connected a little bit" with the Swedish tennis star, who won Wimbledon five straight times and the French Open six times in a row.
"All I do all the time is focus on the point - or the shot - that's in front of me and everybody else can worry about what's going on in the match or what everything is like, or the people or the referee they don't like or whatever it is," Cantlay said during the FedEx Cup playoffs. "Really, if I just focus on the point or the shot that's in front of me, I'm going to end up ahead more times than not."
Sergio Garcia now has won in 17 countries - seven in Europe, eight in Asia, one in North America and South Africa. ... The Korn Ferry Tour continues to add to its schedule with the Veritex Bank Championship, to be played April 16-19 at Texas Rangers Golf Club in Arlington, Texas. ... Akshay Bhatia was planning to make his pro debut in the Safeway Open next week. The 17-year-old now is playing a week earlier than planned, taking an exemption to the Sanderson Farms Championship. ... The PGA Tour Champions is adding a tournament in Morocco next year. It will be played Jan. 30-Feb. 1, ending on a Saturday. ... Steve Stricker is not defending his title this week on the PGA Tour Champions in South Dakota. Stricker has not played since the Senior Players Championship on July 14.
Seve Ballesteros, Rory McIlroy and Joaquin Niemann are the only international players to win on the PGA Tour before their 21st birthday since World War II.
"The Europeans played great. You tip your hat. And you move on to Toledo." - U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster.
Updated September 17, 2019