How the focus on Rory, and the putter friendly Old Course, could play into Viktor Hovland’s hands on Sunday

Viktor Hovland will embrace the roars for Rors and his trusty putter as he chases a place in Open folklore on Sunday.

The 24-year-old Norwegian showed with his 66 on Saturday, the same score as his 54-hole co-leader Rory McIlroy, that he can handle being the firm, albeit still beloved, underdog.

With how much support Rory is getting, is it hard at all to be the other guy?

“I don’t mind,” said Hovland who will tee off again with McIlroy, tied at -16, in the final pairing at 2.50pm (5.50pm UAE time).

“It doesn’t take the pressure off of anything, but I feel like I had some experience with that in the Ryder Cup last year. And at the end of the day, they’re — well, there’s still some shouts there for me as well. So I appreciate those. At the end of the day, I’ve just got to play my game and not worry about anything else.”

Hovland played his own game quite nicely on Saturday, getting off to a fast start with four successive birdies from the third and book-ending the back nine with further gains. The birdie on 10 was particularly impressive given it came moments after McIlroy holed out for eagle from a pot bunker to temporarily take the lead.

“What a wild 2 on that hole. I was glad I was able to make mine for birdie. But when things like that happen, you just kind of have to give each other a fist bump and say good shot.”

Arguably just as important was Hovland’s up and down for par from the path beyond the 17th hole, triumphing McIlroy’s bogey from closer to the stone wall. It was telling that Hovland chose his putter for the tricky shot given his well-documented short-game travails.

“Yeah, a little bit disappointed that I ended up there in the first place, but I hit a couple of putts through that [fluffy uphill bank] in the practise rounds. I didn’t really think it was that bad. It just depends kind of how it initially comes out of there. Sometimes it just comes popping straight up in the air and then just comes out dead.

“So I wanted to make sure I just got it up there. I was looking a little left, and I knew I had the backstop from the pot bunker. Just in case it went really firm through there, it would have come back a little bit. But luckily it just came out exactly perfect.”

There are those who subscribe to the theory that the hard and fast Old Course is exactly the type of layout Hovland needs to obtain his major breakthrough given he can reach for the flat stick rather than a wedge under the blowtorch.

He admitted as much when asked about the shot on 17.

Was it always going to be a putt? “Yeah, I think so. Maybe if it was sitting up a little bit, I could have maybe taken a 60 degree and just barely landed it over the ridge, but I just felt like the putter was the safest play.”

Hovland knows a few more risks might be needed on Sunday but he’s up for the challenge. You only get the chance to win an Open at the Home of Golf every five to seven years or so and the 150th edition only once.

“I don’t think there’s any other place that would top it,” Hovland said of the prospect of becoming the first Norwegian major champion.

“Growing up in Norway and always watched The Open Championship for way longer than I ever did, for example, the Masters. Yeah, to win a major that’s closest to home, that would be really cool.”

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