When Collin Morikawa said in 2020 that the fortunes of himself and Viktor Hovland would ‘be linked together for the rest of our professional lives’, he was probably not expecting it to become so prescient so quickly.
The reigning Champion Golfer of the Year and the man who holds the joint-lead heading into the final day of The 150th Open turned professional on the same day in June 2019 and could now go back-to-back as winners of golf’s original Championship.
The potential of the duo from either side of the Atlantic was clear almost immediately but only Morikawa has so far fulfilled it on the biggest stage, famously winning on his debut at both the PGA Championship and The Open, taking the Claret Jug home from Royal St George’s last year.
Hovland, by contrast, is yet to record a top-10 major finish – a statistic that looks set for an imminent end and would stagger anyone who has watched the Norwegian go about his business over the last three days.
He relished playing alongside Rory McIlroy and the pair will be reunited in Sunday’s final group, when they will tee off with a four-shot lead over Cameron Smith and Cameron Young.
Putting has been a perceived weakness in the Norwegian’s game but his flat stick was hot from the outset on Saturday, the tone for his round of 66 set with four consecutive birdies between 2 and 5 including two 40-footers.
His strength off the tee has never been in question and came to the fore down the back nine, stonking drives at 10 and 18 setting up birdies that allowed him to keep pace with an equally in-form McIlroy and keep the thousands of spectators following their progress on tenterhooks.
McIlroy’s successful putts may have registered higher on the decibel level but Hovland is not letting that affect him as he looks to become the first Norwegian major winner.
“I do not mind it,” he said. “It does not take the pressure off of anything, but I feel like I had some experience with that in the Ryder Cup last year.
“And at the end of the day, there are still some shouts there for me as well, so I appreciate those. I have just got to play my game and not worry about anything else.
“I don not think there is any other place that would top it [winning a major].
“Growing up in Norway I always watched The Open Championship for way longer than I ever did, for example, the Masters. Yeah, to win a major that is closest to home, that would be really cool.
“We have always been kind of a winter nation and done well in the Olympics. We have a lot of great athletes, but I think now, not just in golf, but in tennis and football, a lot of different sports, there are a bunch of Norwegian athletes coming up in summer sports as well.
“Hopefully we could have a similar impact to when Henrik [Stenson of Sweden] won The Open a few years ago, and just get more people to play golf and watch it on TV.”
Stenson famously held his nerve in a two-way battle with Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon in 2016 but Hovland is not ruling out a charge from further down the leaderboard.
Behind the 12-under-par duo of Smith and Young lurks world number one Scottie Scheffler a shot further back, joined by Si Woo Kim, while Dustin Johnson is 10-under-par.
“There are a lot of things that can happen,” Hovland said. “In these conditions and these pin placements, you can play fine and shoot around even-par, and then that brings in a lot of other guys as well.
“It just depends what the conditions are going to be like tomorrow, the pin locations, and just frankly how we play.
“It was cool to trade some holes with Rory as well. He is a good guy, so I do not mind saying good shot to him.
“I mean, like the bunker shot he hit on No. 10 (when holing out for eagle), like disregarding the situation you are in, that is just a filthy bunker shot.
“So you just kind of have to go, hey, that was a sick shot. It is just part of the game.”