Viktor Hovland fired an ominous warning to the rest of the field as he carded an opening 69 at the 2021 US PGA Championship and then declared: “I can’t remember the last time I felt as good as I did today on the golf course.”
Since winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic on the PGA Tour in December, the Norwegian has recorded six top fives in 12 events worldwide, including back to back top threes coming into this week.
That run has helped him reach eighth on the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex but he revealed after carding four birdies and a single bogey at Kiawah Island that he was still working hard on his game, particularly on his fade.
The 23-year-old now feels that work is beginning to bear fruit and he seemed completely at home in just his sixth Major Championship.
“I can’t remember the last time I felt as good as I did today on the golf course,” he said. “I really felt comfortable off the tee and I hit a bunch of fairways and I was able to hit a bunch of greens as well.
“The last couple of months, I’ve… just kind of had one shot with my irons, been drawing it a lot. And whenever I had to kind of cut something up against the wind or to a hole location that’s to the right, I couldn’t really do that really well.
‘I’m at least confident over every single shot that I’m hitting, which is a big deal’
“So I’ve been working on that a lot and today I hit a lot of really nice cut shots into the greens and was able to make a couple of nice putts. So it was a really solid day.
“I think it was really good the last couple of tournaments that I played that I was able to finish third without really feeling that all parts of my game were that great.
“I would have spurts and moments where I hit it really good and then I would hit some bad shots and kind of give back the momentum that I had, whereas now I really feel like there’s not really a hole in my game.
“It doesn’t mean I’m going to play great but I’m at least confident over every single shot that I’m hitting, which is a big deal.
“I feel like, even though I played two good tournaments, I feel a lot better for this week.”
Another man at three-under was Sam Horsfield, who is playing his first US PGA Championship this week.
The Englishman did not start his 2021 Race to Dubai campaign until March as he struggled with a back injury but has three top tens in his five starts after claiming two wins last season.
With that sort of a record, Horsfield could be forgiven for letting things go to his head, but the 24-year-old is refusing to get ahead of himself.
“I just try to keep my head down,” he said. “Don’t want to get thinking I’m better than what I am or whatever. Just head down, work every day and just grind.
“Obviously really, really happy with how everything’s going. Been playing really well this year and it was nice to get out there today. Played well, felt really comfortable.”