When two former Open champions end up driving from the wrong tee box it is easy to think of this as golf’s silly season, but there is plenty of serious stuff still occurring as the golfing year nears its end.
Indeed for several hopeful women, including three Britons, their current play could not be more important as they seek futures on the LPGA Tour.
The veracity of last week’s action for the leading men is harder to gauge, although we can say Viktor Hovland’s victory at the Hero World Challenge was the first time the young Norwegian has beaten a field stacked with big names.
Among them were the hapless Henrik Stenson and Jordan Spieth. They were first out for the final round in the Bahamas and failed to notice the ninth and 17th tees had been switched, so drove from the wrong teeing ground.
As a result the Open winners from 2016 and 2017 each picked up two stroke penalties and were forced to reload from the correct spot.
“I actually didn’t think we were going to get penalised because it’s a charity event” Spieth said. “But then I realised there’s world ranking involved.”
And that answer helps illustrate the end of term feel of an event, hosted by Tiger Woods, that incongruously carried more weight than the recent DP World Tour Championship, the climax of the entire European Tour season.
Hovland picked up 48 world ranking points for beating only 19 other competitors, compared with the 46 that went to Collin Morikawa for his victory in Dubai a fortnight ago. More evidence that it is golf’s silly season.
Yet Morikawa is not likely to see a funny side after blowing a five-stroke 54-hole lead in the Bahamas and failing to clinch the win that would have taken him to the top of the world rankings.
The reigning Open champion’s advantage evaporated with two lost balls in his first six holes. He slumped to a 76 while Hovland’s 66 enabled the Norwegian to finish a shot clear of Scottie Scheffler at 18 under par.
So how should we judge Hovland’s success? On one hand it was against a field so small the awarding of ranking points remains contentious, on the other he beat a line up that contained 17 of the world’s top 25.
“The players here are really good,” said the 24-year-old, who has three PGA Tour wins which were achieved in relatively obscure events in Puerto Rico and twice in Mexico.
“I feel like my wins have come when the field hasn’t been as strong, so for me to do well in a field like this gives me a lot of confidence.”
Wins are wins and Hovland is racking them up at a fair pace. He now has five worldwide because he is also the reigning BMW International champion and up to seventh in the world rankings.
Having made his Ryder Cup debut earlier this year he is firmly ensconced as a force on the PGA Tour. The Oslo-born star sits alongside Spain’s world number one Jon Rahm as the most exciting European prospect.
And if you are looking for a potential future dominant force from the continent in the women’s game there is a prime candidate in France’s Pauline Roussin-Bouchard.
The 21-year-old former amateur world number one has dominated LPGA qualifying and now holds a two-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the two-week Q-Series after completing four rounds in the 60s in Alabama last Sunday.
She now moves to Highland Oaks and takes her 19-under-par tally into the final quartet of circuits starting this Thursday.
Roussin-Bouchard is the pacesetter among 74 players left chasing 45 spots on the leading female tour next year. Among them are Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh, who is tied 11th after a brilliant closing 65 last Sunday.
Also in the hunt are Englishwomen Meghan MacLaren and Anita Uwadia.
MacLaren dug deep after disappointing opening rounds of 73 and 74 and responded with a pair of excellent 68’s over the weekend. She has climbed to a share of 39th place and faces, arguably, the biggest four rounds of her career later this week.
Uwadia made it through on the number after weekend rounds of 69 and 73 and needs to climb from a share of 62nd place into the top 45 to secure her playing privileges.
It may feel like the silly season elsewhere in golf, but with livelihoods at stake that is certainly not the case at the Highland Oaks Golf Club in Dothan, Alabama this week. No question, they’ll know which tees to use, as well.