JEDDAH ROUND 1 RECAP: BROOKS KOEPKA LEADS BY TWO; SMASH GC TAKES TEAM LEAD

Written by LIV GOLF STAFF

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Physically, Brooks Koepka is feeling better now than he has in the past three years. Mentally, he feels good about his game, having recently reunited with swing coach Claude Harmon III after a nearly two-year split. Momentum-wise, he entered this week’s LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah presented by ROSHN off his best result this inaugural season.

On Friday, that rolling confidence manifested itself into an 8-under 62, as the four-time major winner grabbed a 2-shot lead over Charl Schwartzel after the first round at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. It’s the first time the Smash GC captain has led a LIV Golf event after any round in his six starts, and it matches the lowest score shot this season (Lee Westwood, 62, Boston).

“I could see it coming,” said Koepka after his bogey-free round that also included a lengthy par-saving putt at 13. “I’m very pleased with it, pleased with last week. Hopefully just put together two more good rounds.”

Last week in Bangkok, Koepka finished 9th, his first top 10 since joining LIV Golf, shooting rounds of 67-67-69. It was the first sign that his improved health – he’s been dealing with nagging problems all year, including hip issues that nearly required surgery – and his hard work with Harmon, short-game coach Pete Cowan and putting coach Jeff Pierce were taking effect.

“Last week was kind of a turning point for me,” Koepka said.

Added brother Chase Koepka: “It’s funny. He said something last week after the first round that it was the best he’s hit it in a long time. He just had a lot of lip-outs last week. The biggest thing for him is sorting out the driver a little bit. It seems like he’s got the right head in there now. When we played the last couple of days, he had very little curve on his driver and he was stuffing a lot of irons.”

Thanks to Brooks’ 62, Chase’s 2-under 68 and Peter Uihlein’s 5-under 65, Smash GC jumped out to a 5-stroke lead in the team competition, hoping to win for the first time this season. Torque GC, Niblicks GC and last week’s champions Fireballs GC each finished at 10 under, with Stinger GC at 9 under.

Schwartzel, the winner of the inaugural LIV Golf event in London, is the closest pursuer to Koepka. In a three-way tie for third at 5 under are Patrick Reed, Peter Uihlein and Hideto Tanihara. Reed is trying to secure one of the two remaining bonus-payoff spots in the Individual Champion standings. Dustin Johnson already has secured the title and the $18 million bonus from the $30 million purse.

Koepka does not have a mathematical chance to climb inside the top three, but he does have the opportunity to double-dip this week with the individual and team trophy, as well as build momentum for Smash GC going into the Team Championship in Miami on Oct. 28-30.

“The golf swing is starting to come around,” he said. “I'm excited. Kind of sucks we only have this event and Miami left, and a bunch of time off. But it will be fine.”

PROJECTIONS FOR INDIVIDUAL CHAMPION

4 Aces GC captain Dustin Johnson already has secured the season-long Individual Champion trophy and the $18 million bonus. But the second ($8 million) and third ($4 million) spots remain up for grabs this week in the regular-season finale.

Branden Grace (79 points) and Patrick Reed (76 points) entered this week’s event in the bonus positions. Grace is playing less than a week after being forced to withdraw with an oblique injury. He shot a 1-over 71 and is tied for 41st. Reed shot a 5-under 65 to grab a share of third.

Grace’s Stinger GC teammate, Charl Schwartzel, began the week in fourth but is now projected to move into the top 3 after shooting a 6-under 64 for solo second.

The winner of each tournament receives 40 points, with second place getting 30 points, with the top 24 on the tournament leaderboard receiving points. A total of 15 players entered the week with a mathematical chance of moving into one of the two remaining positions.

The projected top 3 and projected points after Friday’s first round: 1) Dustin Johnson, 122 points; 2) Patrick Reed, 94 points; 3) Charl Schwartzel, 85 points.

PROJECTED BYES FOR MIAMI

The top four seeds in the season-long team points standings after this week will receive Day 1 byes for the Team Championship in Miami on Oct. 28-30. 4 Aces GC already has wrapped up the top seed, and the three remain seeds are being contested by four teams – Crushers GC, Stinger GC, Fireballs GC and Majesticks GC.

The projected top 4 and projected points after Friday’s first round: 1) 4 Aces GC, 144 points; 2) Fireballs GC, 81 points; 3) Stinger GC, 80 points: 4) Crushers GC, 80 points.

TEAM LEADERBOARD

In addition to the individual stroke-play competition, players are also competing as four-man teams during LIV Golf events. The best three scores in Round 1, the best three scores in Round 2, and the best three scores in Round 3 will combine to produce the team score.

The total team prize money for each event is $5 million, with the winning team dividing $3 million, second place dividing $1.5 million and third place dividing $500,000 among its four team members.

Here is the leaderboard and Friday’s counting scores in the first round at Royal Greens:

1. Smash GC, 15 under (Brooks Koepka 62, Peter Uihlein 65, Chase Koepka 68)

T-2. Torque GC, 10 under (Hideto Tanihara 65, Jediah Morgan 67, Joaquin Niemann 68)

T-2. Niblicks GC, 10 under (James Piot 66, Turk Pettit 66, Harold Varner III 68)

T-2. Fireballs GC, 10 under (Carlos Ortiz 66, Sergio Garcia 67, Abraham Ancer 67)

5. Stinger GC, 9 under (Charl Schwartzel 64, Louis Oosthuizen 68, Shaun Norris 69)

6. 4 Aces GC, 8 under (Patrick Reed 65, Dustin Johnson 68, Talor Gooch 69)

7. Hy Flyers GC, 7 under (Phil Mickelson 67, Bernd Wiesberger 68, Matthew Wolff 68)

8. Majesticks GC, 6 under (Lee Westwood 67, Ian Poulter 68, Sam Horsfield 69)

T-9. Punch GC, 5 under (Marc Leishman 67, Cameron Smith 68, Wade Ormsby 70)

T-9. Crushers GC, 5 under (Anirban Lahiri 67, Paul Casey 68, Charles Howell III 70)

11. Iron Heads GC, 4 under (Phachara Khongwatmai 68, Sihwan Kim 68, Kevin Na 70)

12. Cleeks GC, Even (Martin Kaymer 69, Graeme McDowell 70, Laurie Canter 71)

PLAYER QUOTEBOARD

Brooks Koepka (after his 62):

If you had told me before the day started, I would have taken 8 under. I think it blows pretty good out here, so you can get in some difficult spots, and I think the greens have gotten considerably better from when we got here on Monday to now. That's been nice. But yeah, I've played really well. Very happy with it and just need to continue this for the next two days.

Hideto Tanihara (on playing the 7,048-yard Royal Greens):

I'm not a long hitter, so playing at this course compared to like last week (7,800 yards), it would have played better, and I'm playing with a lot of the top players, and it's not easy to just play anywhere with these guys out here. With the winds kind of blowing, it is hard, but just today, the numbers were pretty clear and looked pretty right.

Turk Pettit (on his marriage proposal to his girlfriend on Thursday):

I thought about doing it in Thailand last week but there wasn't a good spot and worst-case scenario, I just did it on the Red Sea, so did it last night. Pretty much we were just having dinner on the beach, we were having sushi and was just going to wait and do it at sunset and sunset came around and just like, ‘Will you marry me?’ She actually said, ‘You're joking! You're lying!’ Like five times, and then she said yes.

Jediah Morgan (on Torque GC):

I'd love to see us on top of that podium, more than myself on top of that individual stuff.

PERFORMANCE STATS

Driving accuracy – Abraham Ancer, 100% (14 of 14 fairways)

Driving distance – Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, 348.2-yard average

Greens in regulation – Lee Westwood, 100% (18 of 18 greens)

Most birdies – Brooks Koepka, Charl Schwartzel, 8

HOLE STATS

Easiest hole – 569-yard par-5 4th, which played to a stroke average of 4.563.

Hardest hole – 492-yard par-4 13th, which played to a stroke average of 4.438.

Course stroke average: Rd. 1 (68.458). Par is 70.

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