DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Viktor Hovland handled the toughest stretch at Muirfield Village and delivered three clutch putts at the end to win the Memorial in a playoff over hard-luck Denny McCarthy on Sunday.
Hovland closed with a 2-under 70 on another brutal test on a course baked all week by sun, forcing the playoff with a 30-foot birdie on the 17th — the only one on that hole in the final round — and saving par from behind the 18th green.
Back to the 18th in the playoff, Hovland barely got onto the front of the green, some 60 feet away from the back pin, and two-putted by holing a 7-foot par putt.
It was his fourth PGA Tour victory and first on American soil, this one with a $3.6 million winner’s check and a handshake from host Jack Nicklaus. The Norwegian’s previous wins were in Mexico twice and Puerto Rico.
It was a crushing loss for McCarthy, one of the purest putters on the PGA Tour. He showed his touch by saving crucial pars and playing bogey-free on a day when the average score was just under 75. His only bogey came on the 18th hole — twice.
McCarthy had a one-shot lead when he missed the 18th fairway to the left, pitched out to the fairway and narrowly missed a 25-foot par putt for the win. In the playoff, his shot from the right rough rolled back off the green some 50 yards away. He pitched to 12 feet and the putt caught the left edge and spun away.
“I’m heartbroken right now,” McCarthy said, emotion in his voice after his closest call to win on the PGA Tour in his 156th attempt.
This was a final day when so many went in reverse from the 22 players who had been separated by three shots at the start of the round.
Rory McIlroy chipped in from below the fourth green for birdie and had the lead on the front nine, but he gave away far too many shots on the back — three bogeys in a row — for a 75 that took him out of the picture.
Scottie Scheffler closed with a 67 and finished third and missed the playoff by one shot, remarkable considering he made the cut on the number. The No. 1 player in the world has not finished worse than 12th in his 13 starts this year.
But what a week to forget with the putter.
Scheffler turned a statistically dominant performance from tee-to-green, picking up 20.7 strokes on the field in that category. But he lost 8.5 strokes to the field in his putting. This might be the best context — it was nearly a 20-shot differential in putting to McCarthy, and Scheffler finished one shot behind.
“I think a little bit of my struggles with the putting have probably helped me elevate my ball striking, just because if I’m trying to compete out here … with the putts not going in, I’ve got to hit it really good. And I’ve been able to do that,” Scheffler said.
“Maybe people are asking me about my putting so much more because I’m hitting it so good,” he said. “When you’re hitting a bunch of greens it’s not easy to make every putt. I mean, if I was putting the best this week, I would have won by a crazy amount of shots.”
That belonged to Hovland, who joined McCarthy (70) at 7-under 281.
Hovland, who moves to No. 5 in the world ranking, didn’t feel as though he did anything special. He has had better weeks striking the ball. His lowest round all week was 69. But he was the only player to break par in all four rounds.
“I played smart. I played my game. And I came up clutch this time,” Hovland said.
He was particularly strong at the end. The final three were the toughest at Muirfield Village all week. Hovland birdied two of the three on Saturday to get in the mix, and he played them 1 under on Sunday to get into a playoff.
Si Woo Kim, who played in the last group with McIlroy, had a 73 to finish alone in fourth. Jordan Spieth was in the group another shot back.
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