There was a brief moment in the final round of the 2022 Hero World Challenge when Viktor Hovland was joined atop the leaderboard. When playing competitor Scottie Scheffler holed out for eagle on the par-5 6th, the event's defending champion was forced to answer, and answer he did.
Converting an opportunity of his own from roughly 15 feet, Hovland carded his second birdie in his opening six holes to remain out in front by a single stroke. Tacking on another birdie on the following hole and rounding out his inner nine with a pair of pars, Hovland saw his lead balloon to as many as five.
While his closest pursuer would change throughout the second nine among Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Cameron Young, who were making runs ahead of the final pair, Hovland stood pat. A few nervy moments -- namely on the 72nd hole -- ultimately resulted in a back-nine 36, but was enough for the 25-year-old to finish the week at 16 under and successfully defend his Hero World Challenge crown from a year ago.
"It's frickin nerve-wracking," Hovland said on trying to close out a tournament. "I was leading by five after the turn and you're just never that comfortable. I didn't play all that great on the back nine but it was good enough."
Joining only Tiger Woods in winning the Hero World Challenge in back-to-back years, it may now be time to remove Hovland from the best young player of this generation conversation and insert him into the best player in the world debate. Having previously reached as high as world No. 3, he is now seven times a winner worldwide -- more than Scheffler, Will Zalatoris, Collin Morikawa and Sam Burns. While his triumphs lack the lore of some of his counterparts, the quantity is nevertheless impressive.
Twice a winner in The Bahamas, twice at Mayakoba, two more in Europe and once in Puerto Rico, it is a kid from Norway who has staked his claim as the king of the tropics. As strong a ball striker you'll find, consistent improvements around the green combined with the implementation of aim point on the greens make the now world No. 9's future prospects all the more intriguing.
"I guess we'll find out," Hovland said on what this win will do for his 2023 season. "The short career that I've had, I've tend to play very well later in the year and earlier in the year. The next goal is to try keep playing like this throughout the year. It's fun to end the year with a win and kind of sit on the couch for a couple weeks with a smile on your face."
While his demeanor on the golf course and ever-present wide smile may not match the ferociousness of his music selection, perhaps soon it will. An emphatic fist pump following his winning putt gave us a glimmer of this and showed the meaningfulness of finishing atop a 20-man field in The Bahamas. While not a PGA Tour event nor DP World Tour event, it was a tournament filled with the best players in the world and served as a strong reminder that Hovland is firmly among them. Grade: A+
Here are the grades for the rest of the leaderboard at the 2022 Hero World Challenge
2. Scottie Scheffler (-14): What a good ending to what was truly one of the great years in modern PGA Tour history. Though this doesn't count toward his PGA Tour total of 13 top 10s in 2022, it's still emblematic of the 12 months Scheffler has put together. Though he's not technically the best player in the world at this moment, you could (and I probably would) argue that if you look at the last year of golf, nobody on the planet has been better. Grade: A
6. Collin Morikawa (-9): Morikawa didn't really need a nice week, but a year after he kicked away a chance to take the No. 1 ranking in the world, it was good to see him thrive even if he came up a bit short of his first title of 2022. A confidence-boosting event after an up-and-down year will be useful to Morikawa, who goes into 2023 a bit on the undervalued side. Not much has changed with him, though. He hasn't fallen off a cliff statistically, nor is he in a bad spot. If anything, public opinion went too far after he won two of his first eight majors and now it has swung too far the other way. This is a good opportunity to buy low on somebody I believe is one of the eight best players in the world. Grade: A-
T8. Jon Rahm (-5): It wasn't the tournament I expected from Rahm given that he came into the week having been beaten by four players in his last four starts worldwide. Was it a bad week? I don't know about that. Rahm still tied or beat 12 of the 20 best players in the world this week and goes into 2023 with probably the highest ceiling of anyone not named "McIlroy." Grade: B-
15. Jordan Spieth (+1): Should we draw some broader conclusion as it relates to Spieth's 15th place finish this week in the Bahamas?, but also Spieth's history says no. He finished last at this tournament this time a year ago and went on to have a solid 2022 that included a victory and six top 10s. A bad week for him at the Hero, but it doesn't change my (always?) bullish outlook for him over the next few months. Grade: D
Tiger Woods (N/A): Big Cat unfortunately did not play in a week in which he was slated to, but it was still awesome to see him cruising around the course, jumping in the booth with Dan Hicks and Paul Azinger to offer commentary and staring down players trying as they tried to somehow hit good shots in front of the best to ever do it. If that's all we get from Tiger going forward, I'm still going to be a big fan of that dynamic (and perhaps even more so than if he was playing). Grade: A