It’s shaping up to be a good week for Viktor Hovland: Can he push on and win the PGA Championship?

The Norwegian got his Kiawah Island challenge off to a good start with a 3-under-par 69 and afterwards didn’t hide his excitement about the state of his game.

Truth be told golf doesn't figure highly in the Norwegian sporting psyche.

Olympians dominate the lists of the country's greatest sportsmen and women - the likes of Ole Einar Bjorndalen, the King of Biathlon and winner of 13 Olympic medals, and Grete Waitz, the legendary long distance runner.

After the 2011 Challenge Tour's Grand Final there was the traditional gala, a release from the pressure of a season chasing promotion to the European Tour.

Drunkenness and revelry abounded, and observing it all was Norway's Olympic Chief de Mission who was far from impressed.

"These people aren't athletes," he said. "They don't dedicate or demand the best themselves. Where is the sacrifice?"

"Suzann Pettersen?" someone countered.

He shrugged and huffed. "Well, okay, she's better than the rest of golf, but where is the drive, the desperation, to get to the top?"

Perhaps that man is happier, ten years on, to see his nation's golfing fortunes led by Viktor Hovland.

The 23-year-old is lean, muscular and powerful; he hits driver with an explosive burst reminiscent of a hammer thrower.

He is also in a six-way share for second place after 18 holes of the 2021 PGA Championship, two shots behind the early pace-setter Corey Conners.

Hovland ticked four birdies to atone for one error in his first circuit of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and afterwards was straightforwardly honest about the state of his game.

"I can't remember the last time I felt as good as I did today on the golf course," he gushed. "I really felt comfortable off the tee, hit a bunch of fairways, and hit a bunch of greens as well."

Among those sharing second with him are the two-time tournament winner Brooks Koepka and Keegan Bradley, who boasts both current, course and event form, so it's far from a done deal yet Hovland is the clear second favourite.

Does best price 8/1 at Paddy Power (six places) warrant close attention?

Let's take a look at the key issues heading into the second round.

Hovland's form coming into this week

He finished second by the Pacific coast at Torrey Pines, added another second at the WGC Workday Championship, then hit a flat spot before bouncing back with two thirds in the run-up to this week, at Innisbrook and Quail Hollow.

After his first round he revealed: "I finished third twice without really feeling that all parts of my game were that great. I'd have spurts and moments where I hit it really good, then I'd hit some bad shots and lose momentum."

Hovland on finding something

He then revealed that everything had changed ahead between Quail Hollow and this week: "I really feel like there's not a hole in my game. It doesn't mean I'm going to play great, but at least I'm confident over every single shot that I'm hitting, which is a big deal.

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"The last couple months, I've only had one shot with my irons, been drawing it a lot. I couldn't cut the ball so I've been working on that a lot and today I hit a lot of really nice cut shots into greens and then made a couple nice putts."

Hovland in these conditions

It was not very, very windy on day one, but it was windy enough on a tough track and could easily get worse as the week progresses. Water off a duck's back to the Norwegian, however, thanks to where he has based himself in the States.

"I live in Oklahoma," he said. "It blows like this every single day. Moving the ball down is not an issue."

We kind of knew that because the first two wins of his professional career came at the Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Classic, both played on ocean-side tracks, known for the blustery breezes and also Paspalum grass on the greens - another similarity with Kiawah.

Hovland's numbers and fit with the trends

His tally of 15 greens in regulation was the equal best of the day and he also ranked fifth for Strokes Gained Approach (3.202) and Tee to Green (4.804), but he was 46th for Putting (0.977) and 68th for Around the Green (0.294).

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Eight of the last ten PGA Championship winners were in their 20s - tick for Hovland.

Eight of that ten were also ranked in the world's top 25 - another tick.

Nine of them had a top 20 in one of their two previous starts - a third tick.

And eight had claimed a win that season - is that a tick? His win did come in the 2020/21 season, last November at El Camaleon. Some might argue that stretches a point, others that the similarity in conditions permits leeway.

The numbers and the trends make him a good fit, his confidence is high, plenty will want to get him on-side before the weekend.

And what of the Norwegian Chief de Mission?

Hovland on the Olympics

"Golf doesn't really have a very rich tradition back home," Hovland said, when asked if a win would impact on Norway as Hideki Matsuyama's Masters triumph did Japan.

"We do have a very rich Olympic tradition and now, with golf being an Olympic sport, it would be great for people back home to just get into the sport. I really have no idea. We'll have to get there first."

Hovland the millennial

He closed his day with an enigmatic exchange in the press centre:

Q: Just curious, Viktor, have you ever been on the front page of Oslo's biggest newspaper?

A: I have no idea. You all would have to do some research on that.

Q: I don't speak Norwegian.

A: You just have to look at the front page, I would assume.

Q: I was just curious, you talk about television, are any newspapers from home here?

A: Could not tell you.

Q. Do you read the newspaper?

A: I don't. I really don't.

Q: You and me both.

A: Typical millennial.

READ MORE: The Dye is cast: How will course designer Pete Dye impact on this week's PGA Championship?

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