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Pro leaves flagstick in for birdie putt. What came next was brutal

Viktor Hovland may not be having the greatest luck streak over the past few days.

Inspired play in Rochester had him in the final pairing on Sunday at the PGA Championship last week and even just a shot off the lead on the 70th hole of the tournament.

Unfortunately, Hovland caught his approach out of a fairway bunker on Oak Hill’s 16th thin and slammed it into the bunker face, leading to a drop and subsequent double bogey that all but doomed his chances. He wound up in a tie for second, two shots behind Brooks Koepka.

Call that series of events whatever you want, but you can’t deny what happened to Hovland Saturday morning at Colonial was anything but unlucky — although he probably could have avoided it.

Hovland made the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge by just a couple of strokes but was starting to make a move in his third round with a couple of birdies in his first six holes. One of the PGA Tour’s most prolific ball strikers, Hovland gave himself an outside chance for birdie on the par-3 8th from 36 feet.

Then Hovland made a curious decision, one he doesn’t typically make. As he addressed the birdie putt, he left the flag stick in the hole.

You can probably guess where this is going.

Hovland expertly navigated the double-breaking putt and had it tracking right in the center of the hole. And it struck the flag, right in the center. It didn’t go in and stopped five inches from the hole.

In case you’re unfamiliar, since 2019, players have the option of leaving the flagstick in the cup while on the putting green. But there are conflicting schools of thought about whether leaving the stick in will help you make more putts or cause more balls to bounce out of the hole.

Some pros like Bryson DeChambeau, Adam Scott and Matt Fitzpatrick putt almost exclusively with the flagstick in. Hovland usually doesn’t fall in that camp. Earlier this season at the American Express, Davis Thompson nearly made a 48-foot putt to tie Jon Rahm on the 71st green, only to have it glance off the flagstick.

Hovland’s putt seemed just as likely to find the bottom of the cup had the flagstick not been there, but the 25-year-old seemed to pay it little mind. He made four birdies on the back nine and posted a 4-under 66, which was the early round of the day Saturday.

With Hovland seven back as the leaders teed off, it likely won’t cost him much, but we’ll never know for sure just how close he was to a 65 Saturday.


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