PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Talor Gooch played for the champion 4Aces GC last season but left to join the RangeGoats. Peter Uihlein, who finished 2022 playing for Smash GC, was brought in to fill Gooch’s roster spot for the 2023 LIV Golf League. Now the two high-profile transfers share a one-stroke lead after two rounds of the season opener at Mayakoba.
Both players have made great impressions for their new teams through the first 36 holes. Now paired in the final group on Sunday, they’ll battle for an individual trophy. Will the outcome answer the question of whether the RangeGoats or the 4Aces got the better end of the transfers?
“No, not week 1 out of 14 events,” Uihlein laughed.
“I think we need a little bit of a bigger sample size,” Gooch added.
Still, said Uihlein, “it’s funny how sometimes those play out, don’t they?”
Meanwhile, Uihlein’s 4Aces and Gooch’s RangeGoats will both play chaser in the team competition. Crushers GC (14 under) will take a two-stroke over the 4Aces (12 under), with Fireballs GC (10 under) and the RangeGoats (7 under) also lurking.
It’s the first time the Crushers have taken a lead into any LIV Golf round – and they’ve done so through the first two rounds without captain Bryson DeChambeau contributing a counting score.
“It shows the crazy nature of golf, number one,” said Charles Howell III, the leading Crushers player who is in solo third, one shot behind the co-leaders. “Number two, I know Bryson has a low one in him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shoot a low one tomorrow.”
As for Uihlein and Gooch, both are former Oklahoma State players (as is Howell) and both are good friends. They’ve chatted about the transfers, how it happened that both were involved. Gooch wanted to play with his good friend Harold Varner III. Uihlein felt like he was joining the Yankees when he got the nod from 4Aces Captain Dustin Johnson, whose team won four regular-season events and the Team Championship last year.
“I’ve told Talor a lot that I think he’s handled this as well as anybody could have since joining (LIV Golf) and being on the Aces and then obviously switching teams,” Uihlein said. “Just the way the team stuff works out, with the finances and stuff, he’s done it incredibly well. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Said Gooch: “Once I knew what was going to happen and I was going to Bubba’s team, Peter was one of the first guys I called. Like, hey, we might be needing a fourth, don’t go signing anywhere, don’t do anything.”
A year ago, Uihlein finished third in the Individual Champion race, with Johnson capturing the title. Gooch finished 11th. Neither lofted an individual trophy. It might change for one of them on Sunday.
“Pete played great last year,” Gooch said. “He beat me last year. … The Aces didn’t falter whenever they got Pete. They’re a great team and they’re going to continue to play well. Hopefully we can start playing like the Aces.
“Come the end of the season, I think they’re going to be some good battles.”
The first one ends Sunday at Mayakoba. Shotgun start at 1:05 p.m. ET
Charles Howell III is making his 14th professional start at El Camaleon Mayakoba, having played annually here from 2009-21. So while this is a new venue for the LIV Golf League, it’s familiar territory for the 43-year-old member of Crushers GC.
He’s never won at Mayakoba but he has a chance on Sunday. At 8 under through two rounds, he’ll start just one stroke off the lead and in the final group with co-leaders Peter Uihlein and Talor Gooch. All three played collegiately at Oklahoma State – and they were in the same group for Friday’s opening round.
“I really enjoyed playing with them,” Howell said. “They’re obviously two really great players that have played unbelievable golf on LIV. It’s a comfortable pairing.”
Of course, neither of the leaders can match Howell’s experience at Mayakoba. Uihlein had never seen the course until this week. Gooch had made three previous starts. In fact, no one else in the 48-man field has competed at Mayakoba as many times as Howell.
So is all that experience helping this week?
“Sometimes that experience can hurt you because you’ve seen yourself do everything on every hole,” Howell said. “But I think it has (helped). It’s nice to have a return venue, so when you’re practicing and playing, you have an idea of what’s going on. You’re not trying to learn something new.
“I think any of the guys that have played here before maybe have a slight bit of an advantage. But now that all the guys have seen it, it’s more about who can actually drive the ball the best, get the thing in the fairway, get it in play.”
El Camaleon is a course that offers low scores but also high danger, especially with jungle lining both sides of many holes.
“There’s 18 bridgeable holes and there’s 18 hard holes,” Howell said. “You never get comfortable out here. I think that’s a big deal in that when you’re playing a final round in the wind – which it will be on this golf course – it’s about surviving.”
Here are the standings and counting scores for Rd. 2 of the team competition at LIV Golf Mayakoba. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after Sunday’s final round wins the team title.
1. CRUSHERS GC (-14): Charles Howell III 66, Paul Casey 71, Anirban Lahiri 72 (Rd2: 4 under)
2. 4ACES GC (-12): Peter Uihlein 66, Dustin Johnson 71, Pat Perez 71 (Rd2: 5 under)
3. FIREBALLS GC (-10): Abraham Ancer 69, Eugenio Chacarra 69, Sergio Garcia 69 (Rd2: 6 under)
4. RANGEGOATS GC (-7): Talor Gooch 66, Thomas Pieters 68, Harold Varner III 72 (Rd2: 7 under)
T5. RIPPER GC (-6): Marc Leishman 70, Cameron Smith 71, Matt Jones 72 (Rd2: Even)
T5. SMASH GC (-6): Matthew Wolff 67, Brooks Koepka 72, Jason Kokrak 75 (Rd2: 1 over)
7. STINGER GC (-5): Branden Grace 68, Louis Oosthuizen 69, Dean Burmester 69 (Rd2: 7 under)
8. TORQUE GC (-4): Joaquin Niemann 67, Sebastian Munoz 68, David Puig 69 (Rd2: 9 under)
9. MAJESTICKS GC (-1): Ian Poulter 71, Lee Westwood 71, Henrik Stenson 71 (Rd2: Even)
T10. IRON HEADS GC (+1): Kevin Na 69, Scott Vincent 71, Danny Lee 71 (Rd2: 2 under)
T10. HYFLYERS GC (+1): Brendan Steele 70, James Piot 71, Cameron Tringale 72 (Rd2: Even)
12. CLEEKS GC (+3): Graeme McDowell 67, Richard Bland 70, Laurie Canter 73 (Rd2: 3 under)
Driving distance – Peter Uihlein, 321.5-yard average
Driving accuracy – Henrik Stenson, 92.86% (13 of 14 fairways hit)
Greens in regulation – Talor Gooch, Branden Grace, 88.89% (16 of 18)
Scrambling – Thomas Pieters (8 of 8), Joaquin Niemann (7 of 7), Charles Howell III (3 of 3), Talor Gooch (2 of 2), 100%
Fewest putts – Jediah Morgan, 24 putts
Most birdies – Peter Uihlein, Matthew Wolff, 7
Bogey-free rounds – Talor Gooch (66), Joaquin Niemann (67), Thomas Pieters (68)