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Defending champ Hovland stretches Hero World Challenge lead

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MIAMI: Viktor Hovland closed in on a second straight Hero World Challenge title on Saturday, firing a sizzling eight-under par 64 to push his lead to three strokes in the unofficial US PGA Tour event.

Norway's Hovland, trying to join tournament host Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of the 20-player invitational, had 54-hole total of 13-under par at the Albany course in the Bahamas.

World number two Scottie Scheffler, who could overtake Rory McIlroy atop the rankings with a victory, carded a six-under par 66 to stand alone in second on 206.

It was a further two strokes back to Americans Justin Thomas and Cameron Young, Thomas posting a 66 and Young a 68 as the winds that pushed up scores all week relented just a little.

"It was a lot easier today when it wasn't as windy," said Hovland, although players still had to deal with some erratic "mud balls" on the rain-softened course.

That didn't hinder Hovland, who birdied three of his first five holes followed a bogey at the sixth with another birdie at the seventh.

He scorched the back nine, grabbing six birdies in seven holes from the 11th through the 17th before a closing bogey that was barely a blip.

"It was great -- just kept making birdies," Hovland said. "It was weird. Midway through the round I'd made a lot and it didn't really feel like I made that many.

"I just kind of kept playing golf and kept making putts and, yea, I stood on 18th hole with nine-under par.

"It was pretty sweet."

Hovland's highlights included a birdie bomb from the fringe at the fifth.

He two-putted for birdie from off the green at the 11th, landed his tee shot within 10 feet of the pin for birdie at 12 and stuck his approach within five feet for birdie at 13.

After a par at 14 he two-putted for birdie at 15 to launch another three-birdie burst.

"I missed probably like a 10-footer on the first hole and lipped out and I kind of thought 'here we go again,'" Hovland said. "But after that it was a lot of putts that went in. You need that on a day like today when the winds are down and you can be a little bit more aggressive."

- Eagle lifts Scheffler -

Scheffler's round was highlighted by a long eagle putt at the 15th. He also had five birdies.

"I played good today," Scheffler said. "I played really solid, kept the ball in front of me, hit a lot of fairways."

Scheffler admitted it was sometimes "infuriating" to be in the fairway but have little control over a shot because of mud affecting the ball.

"It's frustrating you spend so much time trying to learn how to control your golf ball and then you're in the middle of the fairway and you have no idea where the ball's going to go," he said.

Hovland, who came from six strokes back to win the event last year, said he'll have to keep the accelerator down on Sunday.

"You get one bad mud ball, lost ball and then the other guy shoots six-, eight-under, you can play a pretty reasonable round of golf, shoot a couple under and still get beat," he said.

"So I have to go out there and do a lot of the same stuff I did today."


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