Viktor Hovland’s broken driver a blessing in disguise: Final round preview of the WWT Championship

The Norwegian leads Talor Gooch by two as he seeks to defend his trophy on the El Camaleon course at Mayakoba.

Tour golfers are precious about their equipment.

Make that very precious.

So, when Viktor Hovland handed his driver to Danny Lee on the range in practice on Wednesday, and the club shattered, it was bad news.

Or would have been if the Norwegian didn't respond with untypical calm.

"James Hahn was nice enough to lend me one of his backups," Hovland explained. "It's a little bit shorter, it's a different shaft, but honestly, it's helped me this week.

"It goes 10 yards shorter, but I can hit it lower and a little straighter. I'm hitting that thing really well. Every time I pull the driver, it's in the fairway.

"Yeah, it's kind of been a blessing in disguise."

So much so that Hovland's attempt to win the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba back-to-back could hardly have gone better.

His third round of 9-under-par 62 saw him grab the lead at El Camaleon on 19-under 194, two clear of Talor Gooch (who carded a Saturday 63) and three ahead of Justin Thomas (64).

Who will prevail? Let's take a closer look at the stats and leading contenders.

El Camaleon stats

With the very notable exception of the 2012 event (when John Huh won from T13th and seven back), being in the top three at this stage has been vital. In fact, 12 of 14 winners were top three (and 13 were top four). It's also the case that 13 of 14 winners were within three blows of the lead with 18 holes to play.

Every winner since 2014 was top 11 for Greens in Regulation in the week of their triumph and five of the last seven winners led or co-led the par-4 scoring.

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Viktor Hovland - leader on 19-under

His 62 was a career-low score on the PGA Tour. If he completes the win he'd have an extraordinary course record that would read: missed cut, missed cut, win, win.

He's 2-for-3 at converting a 54 hole lead. He failed to win the first time it happened, on the Korn Ferry Tour, but he won from this position in the 2020 Puerto Rico Open and also claimed this year's BMW International Open when leading by three.

He's ranking third for Greens in Regulation and 10th on the par-4s.

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He said: "Whenever I get into a flow, where I've got my numbers dialled in and I'm swinging it good, it's just kind of point and shoot. With the speed of these greens and being not so undulated, and usually when there is break, it tends to go just one way, and so for me, it allows me to be pretty aggressive on the putts.

"Happy to be in the spot that I am with all the shenanigans that's been going on so far this week. Playing great and looking forward to playing tomorrow and see what happens."

Talor Gooch - solo second on 17-under

Hunting a third top five finish in his fourth start of the 2021/22 season. He has only been second at this stage of a PGA Tour event once before, when finishing fifth at last year's CJ Cup.

He's ranking fourth for GIR and second for the par-4s. If he pushed on and won it would be something of a surprise because he's rarely thrived in the conditions he faces this week (tight course, blustery wind, grainy greens).

He said: "I've been in the final group a few times and it's what you play golf for, the highest level, final group on Sunday, with two of the best players in the world right now, two Ryder Cuppers, that's what it's about.

"I wish I could bottle up these three, four months of golf and continue it. I'm hoping it's not just a timing thing. I feel like I've made a turn in my game and hopefully we can keep it going."

Justin Thomas - solo third on 16-under

Hunting a 15th PGA Tour title, he got off to a slow start, but has found his feet. As Dave Tindall pointed out in his Spotlight On, Thomas is in a good spot.

Over a quarter (four of 14) of his wins have come in October and November, he's compared the course to Kuala Lumpar (where he won), it's well-known what Waialae winners thrive at El Camaleon (he won there too), and he's excited at having Jim 'Bones' Mackay on his bag.

He ranks eighth for GIR this week, first on the par-4s, and his last two wins have come from four and three shots in arrears with 18 holes to play.

He said: "I'm very, very proud of myself to be where I'm at. It's funny, I played with Patrick Cantlay the first two rounds of the BMW this year and he had a very similar sluggish start.

"He was hitting it really bad and scrambling for pars and bogeys, extremely easy golf course, a couple over around the turn, and we all know what happened that week (he won).

"I kind of remind myself of that because I watched him stay patient and plod his way along. And I know this is a course where you can get on crazy runs. In a good spot now."

Chasers

Carlos Ortiz is alone in fourth with Sergio Garcia and JJ Spaun tied for fifth. They've got a tough task being five and six strokes back at this stage. Of the three Spaun has the best stats (fourth for GIR, second on the par-4s), he's also finished third at the course, and was seventh last week in Bermuda.

Conclusion

Hovland is odds on with his two nearest rivals both 4/1. Thomas looks the best bet in that top trio.

Spaun is an intriguing prospect, but probably too far back.

READ MORE: Thomas Pieters seeking a return to the winner's circle: Final round preview of the Portugal Masters

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