CASEY, VARNER SHARE LAS VEGAS LEAD; RANGEGOATS HAVE BIG DAY

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Written by
LIV GOLF STAFF
Feb 08 2024
- 5 min
2024-02-08T00:00:00.000Z
FULL HIGHLIGHTS: RANGEGOATS RACE OUT IN FRONT ON VEGAS DAY 1

LAS VEGAS – Harold Varner III is looking to make up for last week. Paul Casey is looking to make up for last year.

Both are off to flying starts at LIV Golf Las Vegas.

Varner and Casey each shot 7-under 63s to grab the first round lead on a chilly Thursday at Las Vegas Country Club. They share a two-shot advantage over Jason Kokrak and a trio of RangeGoats GC players – captain Bubba Watson, Thomas Pieters and new acquisition Matthew Wolff.

Not surprising, the RangeGoats lead the team competition at 15 under, one shot ahead of Kokrak and his Smash GC team.

Last week in the 2024 season opener at Mayakoba, Varner finished in last place on the individual leaderboard in his debut after being traded by the RangeGoats to 4Aces GC. He arrived in Las Vegas determined to bounce back for his new team.

“I’m here to play good golf, and as a competitor I think that’s what you’re supposed to do,” said Varner, who shot 14 over on the tight El Camaleón course. “I was kind of pissed off – first of all, it’s embarrassing and second of all, I think I’m better than that, so prove it.”

He did just that with a bogey-free round that started with consecutive birdies. And unlike in Mayakoba, he kept his tee shots out of trouble, leading the field by hitting 13 of 14 fairways. The 63 ties for his second-lowest score since joining LIV Golf.

“I love that I didn’t have to drop every time I hit one offline, so that was exciting,” Varner said.

As for Casey, his 63 ties for his lowest score in 52 career regular-season rounds on LIV Golf. It comes after a 2023 season in which he battled a variety of ailments and never finished inside the top 20 in points in the last 12 regular-season starts.

The extended offseason allowed him to heal, and he entered 2024 with high hopes and renewed confidence. On Thursday, he followed an early bogey with an eight-hole stretch that included six birdies and plenty of strong iron play, hitting 15 of 18 greens.

“I've been working on the game very hard through the wintertime and had a decent result last week in Mayakoba (T-11),” Casey said, “but I just felt like I started to build some confidence out there, and it felt kind of vintage stuff. It was fun.”

Much like Varner, Watson and his new-look RangeGoats struggled in the season opener at Mayakoba, finishing 11th on the team leaderboard as Wolff and Peter Uihlein made the team debuts.

On Thursday, they also bounced back in a big way. In addition to Watson, Wolff and Pieters each shooting 65, Uihlein is tied for seventh after his 66, giving the front page of the leaderboard a decidedly pinkish hue for the RangeGoats’ primary color.

“We need to count four balls today,” said Watson, referring to the format change this season in which all four scores count for the team in the final round. “It’s awesome to see all the pink up there.”


TEAM COUNTING SCORES

Standings and counting scores for Thursday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Las Vegas. The three best scores from each team count in the first two rounds while all four scores count in the final round. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.

1.RANGEGOATS GC -15 (Watson 65, Wolff 65, Pieters 65)

2. CRUSHERS GC -14 (Casey 63, Lahiri 66, DeChambeau 67)

T3. SMASH GC -13 (Kokrak 65, Gooch 66, McDowell 66)

T3. 4ACES GC -13 (Varner III 63, Johnson 67, Perez 67)

T5. FIREBALLS GC -8 (Ancer 67, Puig 67, Chacarra 68)

T5. LEGION XIII -8 (Hatton 67, Surratt 67, Rahm 68)

7. TORQUE GC -7 (Muñoz  67, Niemann 68, Ortiz 68)

T8. RIPPER GC -6 (Smith 67, Herbert 68, Leishman 69)

T8. IRON HEADS GC -6 (Lee 68, Kozuma 68, Vincent 68)

10. CLEEKS GC -5 (Meronk 67, Bland 69, Samooja 69)

11. HYFLYERS GC -4 (Ogletree 67, Tringale 69, Mickelson 70)

12. MAJESTICKS GC -3 (Stenson 68, Westwood 69, Poulter 70)

13. STINGER GC -2 (Schwartzel 69, Grace 69, Burmester 70)

ROUND 1 NOTES

PLAYERS EXPECTING LOW SCORES: Paul Casey is happy to be the co-leader after shooting a 7-under 63. But the Crushers GC veteran didn’t expect to find himself at the top of the leaderboard with that score.

Although the first round was played under sunny skies, an unseasonably high amount of rain in the past week left Las Vegas Country Club in soft conditions and primed for low scoring – especially with preferred lies.

“You almost didn’t want to have that low round because you didn’t want that asterisk with lift, clean and place,” Casey said. “I was surprised scores weren’t quite as low as I thought.”

Given that Torque GC Captain Joaquin Niemann shot a 59 last week on an even tighter Mayakoba course, the talk in the locker room centered around the possibility of another sub-60 score.

“There’s a deep score out there,” said Crushers Captain Bryson DeChambeau, who owns LIV Golf’s lowest score of 58 shot last year at Greenbrier. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a 59 this week. It’s definitely doable.”


GOATS HANGING OUT: On Tuesday, the RangeGoats had a team outing to cheer for the local NHL team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Last month, they took in a game together to watch the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and the NBA’s Miami Heat. Last week in Mayakoba, they stayed in the same villa.

“When we travel and we do things, I want to have fun. I don't want to just sit in a hotel room and be bored or mad at my bad scores,” explained Captain Bubba Watson. “I want to get out there and just go have fun with the guys and go watch some sports. I mean, that's what we do, go do some fun things. So far it has worked out that we've been able to do some cool things and some fun things together.”

Added Matthew Wolff: “To be able to go off the course, regardless of good or bad and know that guys are going to support you and you're going to be able to laugh and talk and kind of just hang out, it's relaxing and refreshing. It's new for me.”

One thing they will not do together this week is attend Sunday’s Super Bowl. Watson is headed to Athens, Georgia, that day to attend a celebration involving his wife and the 25th anniversary of her college basketball team. “Why did they pick Sunday of the Super Bowl? I don’t know,” he joked.


KOKRAK’S HISTORY WITH LVCC: Jason Kokrak doesn’t live in Las Vegas, but he’s quite familiar with Las Vegas Country Club. His aunt and uncle live next to one of the holes, and Kokrak estimates he’s played the course 50 times during trips to visit his relatives.

“I spent a whole heck of a lot of time here at this golf course growing up,” Kokrak said. “… I know the golf course fairly well. They made some changes 10 or 15 years ago but definitely remember most of the golf course.”

And it’s not just the golf course that Kokrak likes about Vegas. The first of his three wins on the PGA Tour came at The CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in 2020. “I feel comfortable here in Vegas,” he said.


KOEPKA LEANS ON 3-WOOD: Smash GC Captain Brooks Koepka cracked his driver while warming up Thursday, so he put his backup in play to start the round. But unhappy with its performance after some early errant tee shots, Koepka utilized his 3-wood off the tee for the majority of his round to shoot a 2-under 68.


TEENAGER LEADS IN DRIVING DISTANCE: 19-year-old Caleb Surratt of Legion XIII led the field in driving distance Thursday with a 319.3-yard average. He also had the fourth-longest drive of the day at 323.6 yards in shooting a 3-under 67.

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