ORLANDO, FLORIDA (AP) – To win at Bay Hill, you must take risks.
You could claim that a short memory is also required.
Viktor Hovland had built up a lot of scar tissue before firing a 6-under 66 and climbing to the top of the scoreboard at 9 under on Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He finished in a tie for 40th place as an amateur three years ago at Arnie’s Place, but has yet to better that finish in the two tournaments following. In 2020, he finished in 77, and last year, despite a 7-under start through 36 holes, he struggled in dreadful conditions, hitting only 14 of 36 greens while still stroking 57 putts and carding 77-78.
“I’m trying to forget about last year’s weekend here,” Hovland added. “The first few days, I performed pretty well, similar to how I’ve played so far this year.” Every day, the route becomes more difficult, and the wind has picked up. After a few too many unpleasant swings, I found myself in a difficult place and didn’t take my medicine as prescribed. Instead of playing wise and taking the bogey when you’re out of position, I kind of exacerbated the errors.”
Hovland acknowledged that last year’s API “drained” him, to the point where he sat out the first two rounds of The Players and missed the cut. But he’s a different player now, having only made one cut in his last 24 starts and won four times in total, including three of his last seven events. In this week’s field, he’s up to No. 4 in the world, trailing only No. 1 Jon Rahm.
No one has played Bay Hill in fewer strokes than Hovland, who is two shots ahead. He didn’t accomplish much on Thursday other than birdie four of his final six holes for a 69. He only hit 11 greens for the second round in a row the next day. His putter, on the other hand, more than made up for it. On Friday, Hovland required only 23 putts to get around, and his flatstick was nearly five shots ahead of the pack in strokes gained.
“I didn’t realize there were so few,” Hovland added. “I knew I could putt well, but I had no idea it was 23.” Yesterday, I felt like I putted well. My speed was maybe a touch off, and I still think I can improve on it a little after today. I basically had a good sense of the lines and was able to start it on time.
“It’s easy to keep that feeling going throughout the day when you see a couple come in early.”
“Hovland isn’t a believer in superstitions. He does always keep his ball marker – a quarter – in his left pocket, but that’s just habit after losing it as an amateur when yanking his glove out of the right pocket.
However, he may need to keep his Ping PLD DS 72 close by Friday night to ensure it doesn’t get damaged.
Hovland made 121 feet of putts, beginning with an 18-footer for birdie at No. 10. He also had a 26-foot birdie at No. 15 (after a clutch 7-iron from a fairway bunker) and two 8-foot birdies at Nos. 12 and 17. The second hole, a 221-yard par 3 played into the wind, was the most challenging of the morning, with only two additional birdies.
Hovland noted, “It was the right number for my 5-iron.” “I hit it fairly nicely and it trickled up to  feet, so that was a wonderful way to get into 18 and then obviously start the front nine,” he said.
“I’ll attempt to hit more of those shots,” said the player.
There will be more of those photos. There are fewer putts. And, for the first time, it all might add up to a successful weekend at the API.