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Albany is biting back as the highest 36-hole lead in tournament history was turned in at the halfway point of the 2022 Hero World Challenge. While the seven previous editions of this tournament held in The Bahamas featured birdies in bunches and halfway leads in the double-digits under par range, this year is a stark contrast. Yet despite this change in the scoring environment, it is Viktor Hovland, the man who finished atop the leaderboard a year ago, who is in the same position after 36 holes.

Signing for a 2-under 70 on Friday, the Norwegian stands at 5 under as he was able to separate himself ever so slightly from a stacked leaderboard. With Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young trailing Hovland by a single stroke, the 25-year-old admitted he expected scores to be better in spite of the conditions. 

"It was tough," said Hovland. "We are kind of grinding over every 3 or-4-four footer out there, and they certainly don't feel like gimmes. This wind just makes everything just a little bit harder, even those basic chip shots, they're not so basic anymore. I still would have expected the scores to be a little bit lower."

With the wind expecting to persist, world-class ball strikers should only continue to gravitate to the top of the leaderboard. PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas, former world No. 1 Jon Rahm and the red-hot Tony Finau are right behind the initial chasing pack in what is setting up to be a memorable Hero World Challenge to wrap up 2022.

The leader

1. Viktor Hovland (-5)

There have been only three eagles through the first two rounds, and two of them belong to Hovland. Nearly acing the par-4 14th on Thursday, Hovland holed out on the par-5 6th on Friday for his second of the week. With a clear comfort level in the wind and on coastal golf courses, it is no surprise see his name occupying the top spot on the leaderboard, even if he was his biggest critic after his second round.

"I put myself in the fairway a lot, but it's kind of strange, like I knew it was windy and I feel like I missed so many putts. And I still don't feel like I'm hitting it very good, like I'm not comfortable over the ball, but the ball's going straight and I'm giving myself looks," said Hovland. "It just doesn't feel that great, and I'm missing a lot of putts, and somehow we ended up at 2 under today, so yeah, happy with that."

Other contenders

T3. Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Young, Collin Morikawa (-4)

6. Tom Kim (-3)

7. Justin Thomas (-2)

T8. Billy Horschel, Sepp Straka (-1)

T10. Matt Fitzpatrick, Jon Rahm, Tony Finau (E) 

Not all motivations are the same this week as some spend quality vacation time with their families while others put on a serious face. Put world No. 2 Scheffler in the latter category as the Texan has his eyes on the prize amid his second appearance in the Hero World Challenge. Standing only one stroke back, a win would put Scheffler back atop the world of golf -- albeit only temporarily as Rory McIlroy will finish 2022 as world No. 1 no matter what.

"I'm definitely not showing up to finish 20th or whatever it is. I've been practicing. I like to practice," said Scheffler. "I took a nice break before we went to South Carolina. I was pretty worn out after the FedExCup, and then the Presidents Cup, so there was a period there for a good five, six weeks where I wasn't practicing too much. I still go out and play for fun and stuff, but not too much heavy practice. Last probably month or two I've been getting after it fairly decent."

A tale of two nines for Tony Finau

At first glance, it was a ho-hum round of even-par 72 for Finau. However, upon closer inspection, the contrast between his front nine and back nine couldn't be more different. Carding five bogeys on his outward half, the four-time PGA Tour winner turned in 4-over 40. 

Drifting outside the top 15 of this 20-man field, Finau found his stride coming home. With four birdies against zero dropped shots over his final nine holes, Finau clawed his way back to even par for the tournament and in with a slight chance over the weekend.

2022 Hero World Challenge updated odds and picks

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

  • Viktor Hovland: 4-1
  • Scottie Scheffler: 4-1
  • Xander Schauffele: 4-1
  • Collin Morikawa: 7-1
  • Cameron Young: 7-1
  • Tom Kim: 11-1
  • Justin Thomas: 14-1
  • Jon Rahm: 18-1
  • Tony Finau: 28-1

It is not often there are three favorites heading into the weekend of a golf tournament. While Hovland holds the slight edge, he is matched on the odds board by Scheffler and Schauffele. With still so much golf to be played and the conditions expecting to continue, I don't mind taking a shot at a couple players in the chasing pack. Justin Thomas at 14-1 is interesting given his ability to play in the wind, and the same logic goes for Tony Finau at 28-1.