PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – An on-course reporter helped Viktor Hovland avoid a penalty stroke Thursday at The Players.
Not that it necessarily helped his score on the hole.
With 258 yards into the par-5 11th hole (his second of the day), Hovland hit the shot he’s been struggling with lately – a “thin heel shot” that drifted right and found the water fronting the green.
What was unclear was whether his ball crossed the line of the hazard before getting rinsed.
Hovland thought his ball landed in the grass around the bunker and kicked right into the water. “So in my head, I’m not thinking: Oh, did that cross or not?” Hovland said.
But when he asked his fellow playing partners about the drop, neither Justin Thomas nor Patrick Cantlay knew for certain whether it had crossed. So Hovland called for a rules official.
“I don’t know what kind of video footage they were looking at – maybe the camera tower behind the green – but he was saying, from his angle, that it looked like it hit the wood, which was in the hazard, meaning it didn’t cross, but I was 100% confident it did not hit the wood,” Hovland said. “When he said that the video footage was not 100% decisive, then I didn’t really have much more of a say.”
Said Thomas: “That’s just unfortunately how golf is to where if you don’t know, if you’re uncertain, you have to take the worst situation for yourself.”
So Hovland began to head back toward the other side of the hazard for his fourth shot. That’s when an on-course reporter for SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio confirmed with the group that Hovland’s ball had indeed – as he’d suspected – found land and then kicked into the water.
“It probably saves me a half-shot in the long run,” Hovland said. “So it was a pretty big deal, going from hitting a full wedge or full iron shot into that back pin and (instead) being able to drop there, I could just kind of roll something up there. So it was a much easier shot.”
Hovland just didn’t properly execute it. His fourth shot pitched on and rolled all the way off the other side. From there, he chipped to 10 feet and missed the putt, walking off the green with a double-bogey 7.
Hovland rebounded the rest of the way, going without a bogey for his remaining 16 holes and carding a 2-under 70. However, he was later docked two shots for mis-marking his ball on the 15th green, meaning he'll be credited with an opening 72.
When asked whether a player’s word should have superseded the inconclusive video, Hovland said: “That’s dicey for me to say. I was pretty confident that it crossed the line, especially from that angle that I was on the left side of the fairway and I saw it bounce straight to the right. But it’s just such a hard issue because most of the time, you can’t 100% bet on the camera angle and it’s just really hard to know.”