NASSAU, BAHAMAS - Hero World Challenge defending champion Viktor Hovland picked up where he left off, shooting 3-under 69 on Thursday at Albany Golf Club to share the opening-round lead with a trio of players. The four-way tie for the lead is the most after any round in tournament history.
On a warm, windswept day, Hovland continued his magic at the drivable par-4 14th, registering his fourth eagle of the hole in five attempts - and noted the one time he didn't make eagle was a bogey.
"That green obviously is not the biggest green, but with how soft it is, if you land it on the green, you can keep it on the green whereas if it was really firm, you kind of have to land it up in the slope and stuff," said Hovland, who nearly aced the hole.
Hovland had never held the 18-hole lead or co-lead in an official stroke-play event on the PGA Tour. The Norway native clearly enjoys playing golf in warm weather, having won the Puerto Rico Open, the Dubai Desert Classic and the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba twice in addition to his Bahamian conquest.
When asked on Wednesday for his reaction to Mayakoba's El Camaleon Course deciding to host a LIV Golf tournament in February, Hovland didn't see why it couldn't continue to host a PGA Tour event too.
"If not, then I'll try to find other places that I can win on," he said.
No better place than in the Bahamas.
Straka fills in for Tiger, and plays like him too
Sepp Straka and Justin Thomas walk from the first tee during the first round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on Dec. 01, 2022 in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
While it is no surprise to see Hovland, who shot 18-under en route to victory a year ago, get off to another good start, Austrian-born Sepp Straka wasn't even in the 20-man unofficial event until Monday around lunchtime when Tiger Woods withdrew with a foot injury. Straka was about to tee off at Shoal Creek in a three-day Ryder Cup-style match back home in Birmingham, Alabama, when he was informed he was the next man up.
"I got the call, so I had to change my schedule up," he said.
Straka had other plans to scratch, too. He was supposed to attend the Friday wedding of fellow PGA Tour pro J.T. Poston - "which was unfortunate but he understood. It was a huge opportunity and just awesome to be here," Straka said - and the former Georgia golfer was headed to Atlanta on Saturday to watch his top-ranked Bulldogs play in the SEC Championship game.
"Just have to watch that from here," he said.
Did he have plans for Sunday, too?
"That was going to be recovering from that game," he said.
Straka arrived in time to play only 15 holes in Wednesday's pro-am, which was cut short due to inclement weather, but it didn't seem to bother him on Thursday.
"I really didn't know what to expect, I didn't play much last week just trying to recharge the batteries a little bit," he said.
Straka is guaranteed a minimum of $100,000 - last-place money - but could make a whole lot more if he keeps playing like he did in the first round, making six birdies against three bogeys. For one day, he played a bit like the man he replaced in the field.
"I mean, the iron game wasn't as good as his," Straka said of Woods, "but maybe rubbed off a little bit on me, so yeah, that was nice."
Morikawa married man
Collin Morikawa lines up a putt on the third green during the first round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on Dec. 01, 2022 in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
A year ago, Collin Morikawa got engaged in the Bahamas during this tournament. He returned this week a married man after tying the knot with Katherine Zhu last week.
Morikawa sounded like every newlywed when asked how it feels to call yourself a married man?
"It's great. Finally get to call Kat 'my wife' instead of saying 'fiancée' and then explaining the next 10 minutes about a wedding and how many people and everything else," he said. "It's a lot more simple now."
Morikawa was 2-over after six holes before rallying with six birdies in his final 10 holes.
"I just kind of knew that the game's there, I've just got to keep going. I never got mentally frustrated, I kind of just stuck with it," he said. "That was the biggest thing."
Kim "officially" meets Tiger
Tom Kim talks with his caddie Joe Skovron during the first round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course on Dec. 01, 2022 in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
South Korea's Tom Kim was the fourth player tied for the lead after posting 3-under 69. He did all his damage on the back nine, including stiffing his approach at 18 for a walk-off birdie, and was the only player in the field that didn't record a bogey in the first round.
It's been a special week for Kim, 20, who enjoyed some quality time with his childhood hero Tiger Woods. Two years ago at the 2020 PGA Championship, Kim asked Woods to take a photograph with him, which Kim's caddie snapped. But he counts talking with Woods this week as their first "official" meeting.
"We didn't talk about anything serious, it was just a lot of small talk," Kim said. "I told him we really would have loved it if he played this week and we're really going to miss him. He was like, he was really trying to prepare hard for it and unfortunately he couldn't make it. But it was really nice, it was the first time I officially got to meet him and talk to him a little bit. It was really cool, I have to kind of pinch myself a little bit."
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek
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