ORLANDO, Fla. – To win at Bay Hill, one must play boldly.
You could argue that you also need a short memory.
Before Viktor Hovland fired a 6-under 66 and ascended to the top of the leaderboard at 9 under on Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he had built up plenty of scar tissue. He shined as an amateur three years ago at Arnie’s Place, tying for 40th, but has yet to better that finish in two editions since. He closed in 77 in 2020, and then last year, after a 7-under start through 36 holes, he faltered in miserable conditions, hitting just 14 of 36 greens while still stroking 57 putts and carding 77-78.
“I kind of try to forget the weekend here last year,” Hovland said. “I played really well the first few days, very similar to kind of how I played so far this year. The course just gets harder and harder every single day, and it started blowing. A few too many bad swings and I ended up in bad spots and just didn’t really take my medicine. I kind of compounded the errors instead of playing smart and just taking the bogey when you’re out of position.”
Hovland admitted that last year’s API “drained” him, so much so that he went through two rounds at The Players basically idling and missed the cut there, too. But he’s a different player now, having missed just one cut in his past 24 starts while winning four times worldwide, including three of his past seven events. He’s up to No. 4 in the world, behind only No. 1 Jon Rahm in this week’s field.
Hovland kept ‘momentum going’ during Round 2
So far, no one has played Bay Hill in fewer strokes, as Hovland leads by two shots. He didn’t do anything special on Thursday besides birdie four of his final six holes to shoot 69. And a day later, he hit just 11 greens for the second consecutive round. But his putter more than made up for it. Hovland needed just 23 putts to get around on Friday, his flatstick leading the field in strokes gained at nearly five shots.
“I didn’t know it was that few,” Hovland said. “I knew I putted well, but I didn’t know it was 23. It felt like I putted good yesterday. My speed was maybe a little bit off, and I still feel like I can improve on that a little bit even after today. I just really saw the lines really well and able to start it on line.
“Sometimes when you see a couple go in early, it’s easy to keep that feel going throughout the day.”
Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Hovland isn’t superstitious. He does always carry his ball marker – a quarter – in his left pocket, though that’s just out of habit after he’d always lose it as an amateur when he’d yank his glove out of the right pocket.
But he may need to keep his Ping PLD DS 72 close by Friday night to make sure nothing happens to it.
Hovland rolled in more than 121 feet of putts, starting with an 18-footer for birdie at No. 10. He added a 26-foot birdie make at No. 15 (after a clutch 7-iron from a fairway bunker) and a couple of 8-foot birdies at Nos. 12 and 17. The latter hole, a 221-yard par 3 into the wind, played as the most difficult hole of the morning and yielded just two other birdies.
“It was a perfect number for my 5-iron,” Hovland said. “I hit it really well and trickled up there to  feet, so that was a nice way to kind of get into 18 and then obviously starting the front nine.
“Yeah, I’ll try to hit more of those shots.”
More of those shots. Fewer putts. And it all may add up, for once, to a successful weekend at the API.