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Hovland, Wolff handle pressure in pro debuts at Travelers

CROMWELL, Conn. – Viktor Hovland started his professional career with a 3-under 67 Thursday at TPC River Highlands.

The 2018 U.S. Amateur champ, Oklahoma State standout and low amateur at both the Masters and U.S. Open made five birdies against two early bogeys.

This wasn’t Hovland’s first PGA Tour event, but it was his first start playing for money, which he’s doing his best not to think about.

“I think instead of thinking about money I’m thinking more about, ‘OK, I want to have some sort of status for next year.’ That’s kind of the goal,” he said. “Obviously, this means I’m going to be making more money if I’m playing good, but it is a little different because I feel like I have to capitalize more on these starts.”

Hovland is playing on a sponsor exemption, along with newly minted pros Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Justin Suh.

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Morikawa, who tied for 14th in his pro debut at the RBC Canadian Open, matched Hovland with a 67 of his own.

Wolff, this year’s NCAA Division I individual champion, struggled early in his round, making the turn in 2 over, but fought back with two back-nine birdies, including one at the last, to shoot even par.

“I talked to [caddie J.P. Fitzgerald] before we got to 16, and I said, ‘I want to finish this round at even par,’ and to do it was pretty special,” Wolff said.

Wolff handled the wild environment at the Waste Management Phoenix Open quite well as an amateur earlier this year, but even he lost a little of his trademark cool Thursday in his first start as a pro.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little more pressure,” Wolff said. “Definitely before the round, it was a little stressful.”

Wolff was told that he had been compared to Zion Williamson, the No. 1 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, on the afternoon’s edition of Golf Central. His eyes went wide and he took a deep breath.

“Obviously, he’s going to go No. 1 in the draft,” Wolff said. “I take that as a confidence booster.”

Rounding out the group of four young pros in the spotlight this week, Suh shot 3-over 73, his one-birdie, one-bogey, 15-par round undone by a trip out of bounds and a triple bogey at 12.