Yet on Day Two here at the Greater Heat Rash Open at East Lake Golf Club, there was the pride of Oslo making himself as at home in the upper-90s Atlanta swelter as any native. Moreso, actually. He’s just getting stronger as the heat builds.
Viktor Hovland went on what for him is quickly becoming a patented spree to feed his lead at the increasingly interesting Tour Championship. As a week ago when he strung together birdies like pearls on a necklace on the final nine to win the BMW Championship, he closed fast Friday to polish a 64, tying Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa for low round of the day.
That left Hovland, who was staked to an 8 under head start because of his lofty FedEx Cup points standing, at 16-under for the still developing week.
He remained tied with first-round co-leader Morikawa, who stands as the lone player in the 30-man field to yet commit a bogey or worse.
For Hovland, it was seven birdies over the final nine a week ago. And five birdies in a six-hole stretch to highlight a back-nine 30 on Friday. He’s just a cut fastball away from being a great closer.
What is the key to such eruptions of low numbers? “You just think back and, oh, I’ve hit three, four really good iron shots and I’ve made three, four really good putts in a row. Let’s just keep it going,” Hovland said.
“Simple as that. That’s the way I’m thinking and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.”
It was so hot Friday that antiperspirants surrendered on the practice green, long before any player even reached the first tee. Sunscreen begged to be put back in the tube, where at least there might be some shade. Yes, as a one-time collegiate player at Oklahoma State, Hovland has had a chance to somewhat acclimate to this climate. Still, pretty extreme stuff for anyone out at East Lake this weekend.
The wonder thus far is what a minor factor the heat has been on many of those walking 18 holes in it. With better than 40% of the field – 13 players – shooting 67 or better Friday, no heat fatigue was evident. No matter if they are from Norway, Texas or, for that matter, Vermont.
After an opening-round 71, Texan Scottie Scheffler, the FedEX Cup points leader all season, course-corrected and shot 65 Friday. He’s two back of the leaders at 14 under.
He admitted that not straying off the tee and not putting like he was blindfolded – as he did Friday – was rather helpful.
“I was six shots better. I didn’t hit it in the water on 15. And I had three less three-putts. So there you go,” boiling down his four hours’ work to four simple sentences.
New Englander Keegan Bradley, who wisely traded ski racing for golf at a tender age, backed up his Thursday 63 with a very useful 67 Friday to snuggle in at 13 under, three behind the leaders.
For Hovland, the numbers tell a convincing story. Through two rounds, he’s first in strokes gained off the tee. And was first in strokes gained putting Friday. That is a potent combination, especially at a place where the Bermuda rough can trap a player like a bad relationship.
“I think it all starts from just the tee,” Hovland said. “I’m hitting a lot of fairways, driving it really well. If you’re constantly in the fairway on this golf course, you can really be aggressive with some of the iron shots in there. I’ve just been able to give myself a lot of looks. And on the back nine, I started making some putts.”
There has been enough low scoring throughout to put a goodly number of players in contention, regardless of where they began the week in the staggered scoring format. Seven players are in the picture at double-digit under par, all of them ranked top 20 in the world, including four of the top 6.
The weekend is heavy with the promise of great players going low.
As Jon Rahm outlined the game plan for the next two days: “I think you have to be aggressive. You have to keep an aggressive mindset. ... There’s always going to be somebody having a good day shooting 65 or lower. It literally happens every day no matter the conditions we play in.”