JEDDAH ROUND 2 RECAP: UIHLEIN LEADS KOEPKA BY 1; SMASH GC STAYS HOT
Written by LIV GOLF STAFF
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka have been friends and competitors for more than a decade. They were roommates for several years when both were starting their pro careers, just hanging out and playing practice rounds. “Back-pin Brooks,” Uihlein recalled with a laugh. “Kept hitting it over the green back in the day.” And now they’re teammates on Smash GC in LIV Golf’s inaugural 2022 season.
On Sunday in the final round of the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah presented by ROSHN, they will do something for the first time on a golf course – play together in the final group on the final day of a tournament.
Thanks to a sizzling 7-under 63 on Saturday at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, Uihlein is the second-round leader at 12 under, one shot ahead of Koepka, the first-round leader who shot 67 to move to 11 under. The final threesome will also include London winner Charl Schwartzel, who is tied for third with Sergio Garcia at 9 under.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ve played together,” Koepka said as he stood next to Uihlein during their post-round press conference. “You play with a teammate, it’s always fun, and then competing for the team thing and the individual thing, I think it’ll be exciting. I haven’t been in this position, so it’s exciting. Got the juices flowing.”
While Uihlein and Koepka will compete against each other for the individual title, they share the same goal of leading Smash GC to its first team trophy. Thanks to Uihlein, Jason Kokrak’s 65 and Chase Koepka’s 67, Smash enters the final round with a six-shot lead over Garcia’s Fireballs GC, the winners last week in Bangkok. Another five shots back is 4 Aces GC, the four-time team winners.
While Smash is mathematically eliminated from claiming one of the four day-one byes, it is projected to move to fifth in the team standings, which would allow the team to choose its opponent for the first day at the Team Championship in Miami.
“Getting into the fifth spot, at least that puts a lot of power in our position that we can kind of choose who we want to play,” Uihlein said. “I think getting a win tomorrow as a team is important. … We’ve got a lot to play for.”
And it should be a lot of fun for the two old friends. Uihlein turned pro in December 2011; Koepka followed about six months later. Uihlein began playing on global developmental tours early in his career; Koepka followed suit.
“The only option was to go play Challenge Tour (in Europe) for me,” Koepka recalled. “I wasn’t a big name. I wasn’t going to get any starts. It was the only option I had if I wanted to get out and be one of the best players in the world. I thought that was the best way to do it, and watching [Uihlein] do it made it easier, knowing somebody that was over there. … I still think it’s probably the most fun I’ve had playing golf was 2012 to 2014 playing in Europe. Got to travel the world, and to get to do it for a living, I think it’s pretty cool.”
When they weren’t on the road, the ultimately ended up in the same place in south Florida, eventually sharing a house in Jupiter as their base.
“We were just starting our careers, so it was kind of fun. We were just trying to get our feet wet,” Uihlein said. “The way our schedules worked out, we were home together a lot and we were on the road together. It was just fun. We were a lot younger, different part of our lives. We just had a good time.”
Koepka, of course, became a four-time major winner; Uihlein, meanwhile, seems to have found his stride since joining LIV Golf. This will be the third time this season’s he played in the final group in the final round. Sunday could be a huge day for him, as he’s projected to claim one of the money-paying spots in the season-long Individual Champion race with a victory.
“Just trying to keep getting comfortable, putting myself in this situation to have a chance to win,” Uihlein said. “Obviously, I’ve got a world-class player over here, one of the best out here chasing me down, so it should be fun. That’s the stuff you want. It’s the stuff you play for, so I’m excited.”
Said Koepka: “I think it’ll be important to kind of feed off each other. I’m excited for it, I really am. I haven’t been this excited in a long time.”
SERGIO IN CONTENTION DESPITE BALKY LEFT KNEE
Fireballs GC captain Sergio Garcia is tied for third through two rounds in Jeddah after shooting a 6-under 64 on Saturday. He’s doing it on one good knee.
For the second consecutive week, Garcia has his left knee wrapped up. While he’s yet to have an MRI to confirm the problem, he’s been told by a physiotherapist that it’s probably a damaged meniscus.
“It’s a little sore, but a couple of pills and grind your teeth and play through it, I guess,” Garcia said.
Garcia opened with a 3-under 67 before shooting his bogey-free round on Saturday. It was the second best-round of the day behind leader Peter Uihlein’s 63. Despite going low, Garcia acknowledged that his knee problem impacts his swing.
“I am struggling to hit draws,” he said. “That’s when it hurts the most. I can kind of hit little fades and kind of go around, make my way around the golf course.”
With the Fireballs coming off a win in Bangkok and now in the hunt again in Jeddah, the captain wants to give his Spanish-speaking team the best chance of another podium finish.
“Obviously, I’ve been hitting a lot of good shots,” Garcia said. “This is special. It’s different. Probably if we weren’t playing the team format and everything, I probably would’ve taken a few weeks off and probably fixed whatever is wrong on my knee.
“I feel like I can play even though it hurts a little bit and I can manage to play through it and try to help my teammates as much as possible.”
PROJECTIONS FOR INDIVIDUAL CHAMPION
Charl Schwartzel entered this week ranked fourth in the season-long Individual Champion points race. He now has an opportunity to move into one of the top three money-paying positions from the $30 million purse. But it could be at the expense of injured Stinger GC teammate Branden Grace.
Schwartzel, the winner of the inaugural LIV Golf event in London, enters the final round at Royal Greens tied for third with Sergio Garcia at 9 under. He currently has 55 points for the season, while Grace entered the week second at 79 points. Patrick Reed is third at 76 points.
With 40 points going to the winner, 30 points for second and 24 points for third, Schwartzel could tie Grace with a third-place finish provided Grace does not finish inside the top 24 that receive points. Grace is currently tied for 40th at even par. Last week in Bangkok, Grace was the first-round co-leader but withdrew early in the second round with an oblique injury and was uncertain of his status for this week until Friday.
If both Schwartzel and Grace are tied, then it goes to the season-long tiebreaker. The first tiebreaker is best finish in an event; both players have a win. The next tiebreaker is second-best
finish; Grace has a third-place, but Schwartzel would tie him with a third in Jeddah. The next tiebreaker is third-best finish in an event; Grace has a 12th and Schwartzel has a 7th, so Schwartzel would win the tiebreaker.
“Look, I've got a chance,” Schwartzel said. “I still have to play well tomorrow. I think it needs to be like a third probably on my own. I feel bad for Branden because he was playing so well last week, he probably would have secured his destiny there for second spot. But still got 18 holes to go. I see Patrick Reed made a few bogeys. I'm sure Branden is watching the leaderboard more than we are.”
Schwartzel could indeed pass Reed with a third place, depending on how Reed fares Sunday. Reed is in good shape to acquire points, as he enters the final round tied for 11th at 6 under, and is projected to maintain the third position in points.
However, the Schwartzel-Grace scenario could all be a moot point if second-round leader Peter Uihlein wins the event.
Based on the second-round leaderboard, Uihlein is projected to get the 40 points for winning and move to 89 points for the season. Reed is projected to get 5 points and move to 81 points. Grace and Schwartzel would then both be shut out of the money-paying spots.
The only player not having to sweat out his position is Dustin Johnson, who secured the season-long Individual Champion trophy and the $18 million bonus last week. That leaves the second ($8 million) and third ($4 million) spots to be decided on Sunday in what is shaping up to be a wild finish.
PROJECTED BYES FOR MIAMI
The top four seeds in the season-long team points standings after this week will receive day-one byes for the Team Championship in Miami on Oct. 28-30. 4 Aces GC already has wrapped up the top seed, and the three remaining seeds are being contested by four teams – Crushers GC, Stinger GC, Fireballs GC and Majesticks GC.
The projected top 4 and projected points after Saturday’s second round: 1) 4 Aces GC, 156 points; 2) Fireballs GC, 93 points; 3) Crushers GC, 92 points; 4) Stinger GC, 74 points.
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 Saturday’s counting scores in the second round at Royal Greens. Note: Iron Heads GC is playing with three players after captain Kevin Na withdrew midway through Saturday’s round due to sickness:
1. Smash GC, 30 under (Peter Uihlein 63, Jason Kokrak 65, Chase Koepka 67)
2. Fireballs GC, 24 under (Sergio Garcia 64, Abraham Ancer 65, Eugenio Chacarra 67)
3. 4 Aces GC, 19 under (Dustin Johnson 65, Talor Gooch 67, Pat Perez 67)
4. Crushers GC, 18 under (Paul Casey 64, Anirban Lahiri 66, Bryson DeChambeau 67)
5. Hy Flyers GC, 16 under (Matthew Wolff 66, Cameron Tringale 67, Bernd Wiesberger 68)
6. Torque GC, 15 under (Joaquin Niemann 66, Jediah Morgan 68, Scott Vincent 71)
T-7. Stinger GC, 14 under (Charl Schwartzel 67, Branden Grace 69, Shaun Norris 69)
T-7. Niblicks GC, 14 under (James Piot 67, Harold Varner III 69, Turk Pettit 70)
9. Cleeks GC, 12 under (Graeme McDowell 65, Martin Kaymer 66, Richard Bland 67)
T-10. Iron Heads GC, 10 under (Sihwan Kim 65, Sadom Kaewkanjana 68, Phachara Khongwatmai 71)
T-10. Majesticks GC, 10 under (Lee Westwood 68, Ian Poulter 68, Sam Horsfield 70)
12. Punch GC, 9 under (Wade Ormsby 68, Cameron Smith 69, Matt Jones 69)
Peter Uihlein (on starting with four consecutive birdies Saturday):
It was a dream start really. Just kind of held on from there and finished with a flurry, so it was nice.
Brooks Koepka (on his putting):
I thought the green speeds were, I don’t know, maybe a 1-1/2 foot faster than what they were yesterday, so I had a little trouble adjusting. Having to do that mid-round, I firmed a few and then didn’t get a few to the hole, so somewhere in between those would be nice.
Abraham Ancer (on Royal Greens):
It’s a golf course that you can’t really overpower. You have to be in the fairway and the fairways get pretty tight, especially when the wind pumps up like this … I love the wind. I love the golf course. It’s tough to make a lot of birdies.
Charl Schwartzel (on how the LIV season has evolved):
Initially I thought that the first event was -- especially from our side (Stinger GC), we had a lot of fun. We're still having fun, but it's gotten a bit more serious. The competitive side of us has come back, and I see everybody grinding on the range just as they would have done anywhere else.
Fairways hit – Abraham Ancer, Anirban Lahiri, Graeme McDowell 79% (11 of 14 fairways)
Driving distance – Paul Casey, 333.1-yard average
Greens in regulation – Matthew Wolff, 94% (17 of 18 greens)
Fewest putts – Peter Uihlein, 24
Lowest round – Peter Uihlein, 63
Most birdies – Peter Uihlein, Abraham Ancer, Anirban Lahiri, Talor Gooch, 7
Bogey-free rounds – Sergio Garcia (64), Paul Casey (64), Dustin Johnson (65), Sihwan Kim (65), Jason Kokrak (65), Pat Perez (67)
Easiest hole – 569-yard par-5 4th, which played to a stroke average of 4.489.
Hardest hole – 492-yard par-4 13th, which played to a stroke average of 4.532.
Course stroke average: Rd. 1 (68.458). Rd. 2 (67.851). Par is 70.