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Former Oklahoma State star Viktor Hovland excited about Austin debut at Dell Match Play

Thomas Jones
Austin American-Statesman
Viktor Hovland watches his shot from the 12th tee during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament earlier in the month. The former Oklahoma State star will make his debut at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play this year.

When Viktor Hovland steps into the tee box Wednesday morning at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, it will mark the first time that the burgeoning PGA star from Norway has ever taken a swing on a course in Austin.

But he’s certainly no stranger to area golf fans, especially those that follow the Texas men’s team and collegiate golf.

Hovland enjoyed an All-American career at Oklahoma State, where he led the Cowboys to the Big 12 Conference championship as a junior in 2019. He earned the sport’s coveted Ben Hogan Award later that year, which is given annually to the top men's college golfer.

Related:Defending champ Kevin Kisner draws tough challenge in WGC-Dell draw

Since then, it’s been a fast rise up the rankings for the fresh-faced 23-year-old, the 13th seed at the tournament who is ranked No. 31 in the world and will be part of a challenging but winnable group that includes steady American Kevin Streelman, native Texan Abraham Ancer and Austrian Bernd Weisberger, a star in Europe who has yet to match that success in the States. Hovland, the first Norwegian man to win a PGA event, is a sneaky dark horse to win the event with 28-1 odds; only 10 players have a better chance, according to CBS Sports. 

Viktor Hovland, of Norway, hits a shot from the cart path off the 16th fairway during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

But the Dell Match Play offers a unique challenge for Hovland, who hasn’t competed in match play since his amateur days.

“I do feel like I'm a newcomer still,” Hovland said Tuesday after a practice round at sun-splashed Austin Country Club. “I haven't played that many WGCs out here, and it's the first time teeing it up here in Austin, so there's still a lot of things that are new. (But) I'm going into the event thinking I can do pretty well, even though I am a first-timer here.”

Even though Hovland spent three years at Oklahoma State and seriously considered joining the golf programs at Texas Tech and TCU, he has never played a competitive round in the golf haven of Austin. The Hill Country terrain immediately caught his eye, as did some of the opportunities for those daring enough to flirt with disaster while navigating around the course’s deep pot bunkers.

Bohls:Masters champ Dustin Johnson cream of the crop for Austin's Dell Match Play

“It's pretty quirky with the rolling terrain, and it's a great match-play course,” he said. “I feel like you can really get it going and you can take a couple of risks where you probably wouldn't have taken them in stroke play, so I think it will be an interesting tournament this week.”

And how does such risk arise in match play compared to stroke play? 

“One example is just like if you're four (strokes) down with six to play, you don't really have a choice but to maybe squeeze an iron shot a little bit closer than you would have if it was a stroke play event,” Hovland said. “So it just kind of changes the dynamic a little bit, depending upon what, if you're up or down or, yeah, what the match is.”

Matt Fitzpatrick chips on the second hole during the third round of The Players Championship golf tournament earlier this month. Fitzpatrick, seeded No. 15 at this year's WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, is making his fifth appearance at the tournament

Weather moves up Dell Match Play tee times

The series of storms that swept across Central Texas early Tuesday morning dampened the dust and cleared the air while making for a picture-perfect practice round. But the golfers won’t likely be so lucky the rest of the week, with a series of showers expected to douse the Austin area. As a result, PGA officials moved tee times up several hours for Wednesday's first round. The event starts with No. 11 Rory McIlroy teeing off against No. 60 Ian Poulter at 7:45 a.m., and the final matchup tees off at 1:26 p.m. between No. 28 Kevin Na and No. 41 Robert MacIntyre. Match play was originally scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. with the final pairing teeing off at 4:11 p.m.

More:Storms damage buildings in Bertram; more rain likely Wednesday night ahead of Texas Relays

News and notes

Matt Fitzpatrick is seeded No. 15 at Dell and has four consecutive top-10 finishes, including a tie for ninth at The Players Championship earlier this month. But success at Austin Country Club has been elusive for the 26-year-old Englishman, who is making his fifth appearance at the tournament and lost all three of his group matches at Austin Country Club in 2019. And he certainly won’t have the gallery at his back, since his group includes former Longhorn Jordan Spieth. “Not really had too much success here, unfortunately,” Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. “It's a strange golf course; the front nine's very different to the back nine. And it can get windy here, so it can be quite tough. So yeah, it's going to be an interesting week.” ... Tuesday’s practice round included several notable observers, including Austin native and World Golf Hall of Fame member Tom Kite and Texas women’s golfer Bentley Cotton, who helped nearby Westlake High School win two state championships.