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Golf fans couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the 2023 TOUR Championship than they received.
Some of the biggest names in the sport are in contention as part of a crowded leaderboard at the conclusion of Friday’s second round at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. The field featured staggered starting positions based on where golfers were in the FedEx Cup standings, but it didn’t take long for a logjam to emerge near the top of the leaderboard.
Scottie Scheffler entered the tournament with a score of 10 under thanks to his position atop the rankings, but his one over in Thursday’s first round opened the door for the rest of the field.
To Scheffler’s credit, he bounced back Friday with a five-under 65. Still, he and everyone else are looking up at the red-hot Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa on a leaderboard that can be found in full at PGATour.com:
1. Viktor Hovland, -16
2. Collin Morikawa, -16
3. Scottie Scheffler, -14
4. Keegan Bradley, -13
T5. Xander Schauffele, -12
T5. Jon Rahm, -12
7. Rory McIlroy, -10
Good Luck Beating Viktor Hovland When He Catches Fire
Nobody had more momentum headed to East Lake Golf Club than Hovland, who won the BMW Championship with a record-setting performance last weekend. He shot a course-record 61 in the final round at Olympia Fields Country Club in one of the most incredible displays of golf of the season.
And he caught fire again Friday.
PGA TOUR @PGATOUR
Make that four in a row 😏
Hovland was steady in a bogey-free opening round, but he was missing the spectacular element he displayed the last time out and posted just two birdies. It looked to be more of the same with two birdies and one bogey through the first 11 holes in Friday’s second round.
That is, until he went into takeover mode once again.
Sir Garrard @_garrard_
VIKTOR HOVLAND right now 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Xvkti6R5aU
All Hovland did in the final seven holes was tally five birdies—including four in a row—with a combination of powerful drives, dart-like approach shots and clutch putting. Much like a basketball player in the zone from three-point range, everything coming off the 25-year-old’s putter seemingly went in down the stretch.
He is in position to take home the first FedEx Cup title of his career as a result.
Rory McIlroy Deserves Credit for Battling
If Hovland takes home the FedEx Cup title, he will dethrone the reigning champion and three-time winner in Rory McIlroy.
It was clear from the start of this year’s event that the best version of McIlroy probably wouldn’t be on display because of a back injury. He grimaced through an even-par 70 in the opening round but battled his way to a better performance Friday.
Even though he released the club in apparent pain multiple times and didn’t look like someone who is going to win the tournament, he fought his way to a three-under 67 with four birdies and just one bogey.
TRACKING RORY @TrackingRory
🚨 FINISHING BIRDIE !!
Rory McIlroy shoots 67 (-3) today, despite struggling with lower back issues. We are still in this tournament but definitely won’t be easy to win with the current situation. Rory sits at -10 going into the weekend, currently solo 7th ✅✅ pic.twitter.com/KTMnVUH326
Never was his fight more apparent than the par-five 18th hole when he missed the green on his second shot and chipped the third shot longer than he wanted to before he drilled a clutch mid-range putt to come away with a birdie.
It will take some McIlroy magic to play his way fully into contention given the brilliance from Hovland and Morikawa, but he is in the top 10 at seventh place and deserves plenty of credit for playing at the level he did Friday given the injury.
A Weekend Hovland-Morikawa Showdown Would be a Treat
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
While Hovland’s incredible back nine surely caught the attention of the rest of the field, especially after he won last week with a 28 on the back nine, he isn’t the only one sitting at 16 under through two rounds.
Morikawa has been more dialed in than anyone at the TOUR Championship to this point. He had to be if he was going to have any chance at a victory given his starting position of one under.
The 26-year-old was unstoppable Thursday with a nine-under 61, which put him firmly under the spotlight going into the second round.
And he thrived in that spotlight.
Morikawa turned in a six-under 64, which just so happened to be the exact score for Hovland in the second round. The former avoided any critical mistakes for a second straight day and is bogey-free on the tournament.
Both Morikawa and Hovland have proved they can turn in incredibly low scores at East Lake Golf Club. Neither has shown any weakness off the tee, from the fairways or on the greens to this point, but it is Morikawa who has played the best overall golf given his starting position:
Rick Gehman @RickRunGood
Collin Morikawa is five shots better than anyone else in the field at the halfway mark. pic.twitter.com/qdKNB23nrg
It might take another one of those scorching back-nine birdie streaks from Hovland to hold him off during what promises to be a thrilling showdown over the weekend.