LIV GOLF TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: SEMIFINALS RECAP, FINALS PREVIEW
Written by LIV GOLF STAFF
MIAMI – The final day of the inaugural LIV Golf season will feature 4 Aces GC, Stinger GC, Smash GC and Punch GC in a stroke-play shootout to decide the LIV Golf Team Championship on Sunday at Trump National Doral.
The four remaining teams were determined on a tense Saturday, in which seven of the 12 semifinals matches went the distance, including two that required extra holes.
Brooks Koepka’s Smash GC, winners of the team title two weeks ago in Jeddah, were the only team to sweep all three matches in beating Majesticks GC. The other results included Cameron Smith’s Punch GC beating Sergio Garcia’s Fireballs GC, despite Garcia knocking off Smith in their singles match; Dustin Johnson’s 4 Aces GC getting tested before beating a gritty Cleeks GC team playing without injured captain Martin Kaymer; and Stinger GC beating Crushers GC in a three-match set that required 61 holes, including captain Louis Oosthuizen’s decisive victory over Crushers captain Bryson DeChambeau on the 23rd match hole.
The four surviving teams will now switch from match play to stroke play for Sunday’s Championship round. For the only time this season, all four individual scores will count toward the team score. The team with the lowest score will share the $16 million first prize from the historic $50 million purse.
“It's the first LIV Team Championship,” said Johnson, who already has claimed the Individual Champion title this season. “It's kind of the first year of this and I think it's gone really well and it just kind of sets up for things to come. I think it would be amazing and it's something that we all really want to win.”
Here's a look at each semifinals result from Saturday:
4 ACES GC 2, CLEEKS GC 1
Dustin Johnson/4 Aces def. Shergo Al Kurdi/Cleeks, 5 & 3. The 4 Aces captain and LIV Golf Individual Champion won three of the first four holes and cruised to victory over Al Kurdi, the 19-year-old replacement player for injured Cleeks captain Martin Kaymer. Johnson closed out the match with a long birdie putt at the par-3 15th.
Laurie Canter/Cleeks def. Patrick Reed/4 Aces, 2 & 1. The 32-year-old Englishman continued his fine play his week, knocking off the seasoned match-play performer in Reed. Canter took control by winning four consecutive holes midway in the match, but Reed bounced back with two winning holes. They then split the next two holes with birdies before Canter closed it out with a birdie on the 17th match hole (the par-4 18th).
Pat Perez-Talor Gooch/4 Aces def. Graeme McDowell-Richard Bland/Cleeks, 1 up. The 4 Aces duo rallied down the stretch to win a tight match that decided the fate of both teams. The match was tied after 14 holes, but a Cleeks bogey gave the Aces duo the lead, and they held on by matching scores on the final three holes. “We knew it was going to be a tough match,” Gooch said. “I looked at Pat and said we’ve got to put some pressure on them and get it done for the team.” Said Perez: “I probably had the most pressure of anybody today. I knew I had to show up in alternate shot. I had a blast.”
PUNCH GC 2, FIREBALLS GC 1
Sergio Garcia/Fireballs def. Cameron Smith/Punch, 2 & 1. After squaring the match with a birdie on the 10th hole of the match at the par-4 14th, the Fireballs captain took control by winning three consecutive holes – two with birdies – to knock off the reigning Open champion. Garcia had six birdies on his round. “Had a little bit of Ryder Cup vibes going,” Garcia said. “It’s nice to see that even though some people don’t think so, I can still play this game.”
Marc Leishman/Punch def. Carlos Ortiz/Fireballs, 1 up. Leishman was 3 up after eight holes before Ortiz squared the match by winning four holes in a six-hole stretch. But Leishman won the match’s 16th hole (the par-4 third) with a par and hung on from there for his second match win of the week. “It’s nice to be able to say we’re playing tomorrow and to give us a chance at that championship,” Leishman said.
Matt Jones-Wade Ormsby/Punch def. Eugenio Chacarra-Abraham Ancer/Fireballs, 1 up. The entertaining match was tied through 16 holes before the Australians took the lead with a par against the Fireballs’ double bogey. Both teams bogeyed the final hole as Punch sealed the point.
SMASH GC 3, MAJESTICKS GC 0
Brooks Koepka/Smash def. Ian Poulter/Majesticks 3 & 1. The Smash captain won the first two holes with a par and a birdie and never trailed against the match-play specialist. Koepka put five consecutive 3s on his scorecard midway in the round to go 4 up. Poulter made it interesting by winning two holes late before Koepka closed it out with a birdie. “Poults is never going to give up,” Koepka said. “He’s too competitive, too gritty and he kind of showed that in the last 5-6 holes there.”
Peter Uihlein/Smash def. Lee Westwood/Majesticks, 4 & 2. Uihlein won his second consecutive match, pulling away down the stretch by winning four of the last six holes against the veteran Westwood. Uihlein closed out the match with consecutive birdies at hole Nos. 6 and 7.
Jason Kokrak-Chase Koepka/Smash def. Henrik Stenson-Sam Horsfield/Majesticks, 1 up. The Smash duo won for the second time this week, taking control by winning four holes in a six-hole stretch midway through the match. They were 3 up with five holes to play before the Majesticks won two holes with pars to take the match to the distance.
STINGER GC 2, CRUSHERS GC 1
Louis Oosthuizen/Stinger def. Bryson DeChambeau/Crushers, 23 holes. The Stinger captain, playing with an injured left elbow, never led until winning the 23th hole of the match with a birdie that allowed the Stingers to advance past the Crushers. At one point, the Crushers captain was 3 up before Oosthuizen fought back, tying the match in the final hole of regulation. The two captains then matched birdies on the first two extra holes and pars on the next two before Oosthuizen’s winning hole in which DeChambeau yanked his tee shot on the par-5 1st into the water and could never recover. “I was struggling to follow through on my driver,” Oosthuizen said. “In the end, adrenaline just took over the last few holes. It was a great match. I thought the boys had it covered, then I saw Branden lost and I said, ‘Oh boy, gotta do something.’ Very chuffed.”
Paul Casey/Crushers def. Branden Grace/Stingers, 20 holes. Casey won with a birdie on the 20th hole that allowed the Crushers to stay alive before Oosthuizen’s win over DeChambeau. Grace led for eight consecutive holes at one point before Casey won two late holes. Grace tied it on the 17th hole of regulation to send it to extra holes.
Charl Schwartzel-Hennie du Plessis/Stinger def. Charles Howell III-Anirban Lahiri/Crushers, 2 up. The South African duo posted a couple of birdies midway through the match and never trailed in a tight match that gave the Stingers its first point of the day.
PREVIEW OF SUNDAY’S CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND
Dustin Johnson’s 4 Aces GC won four of the seven team titles during the regular season, sweeping all four tournaments played in the United States. They arrived at Trump National Doral as the top seed, and the heavy favorites. Will anything less than the Team Championship and the $16 million first prize be disappointing?
“I don't think so,” Johnson said. “I think we've had a really good year and no matter what happens tomorrow, we'll still have had a really good year.
“Tomorrow, it's anybody's ballgame. All four guys have to play really well if you want to win. Tomorrow is different -- we haven't had one tournament or one event where we've had to count all four scores, so you know, I think it's going to be really exciting and a lot of fun.”
The depth of each four-player lineup will be tested. Perhaps the team with the hottest hands will be the decisive factor. But it could also be decided on avoiding the high scores on a course called the Blue Monster.
Of the four remaining teams, two have played in both the quarterfinals and semifinals rounds.
The 5th-seeded Smash GC, captained by Brooks Koepka, beat Niblicks GC 2 to 1 on Friday before sweeping Majesticks GC 3-0 on Saturday. Peter Uihlein has won both of his singles matches handily, and the team of Chase Koepka and Jason Kokrak won their two foursomes matches. Brooks Koepka lost to Harold Varner III 4 & 3 on Friday but bounced back to beat match-play specialist Ian Poulter 3 & 1 on Saturday.
“I played good yesterday. Played better than I did today,” Brooks Koepka said after beating Poulter. “Just got whacked by Harold, 7 under through 10. Not much you can do. But our whole team is playing well. We’re excited to see what tomorrow brings.”
The all-Australian Punch GC, captained by Cameron Smith, beat Hy Flyers GC 2 to 1 in the quarterfinals, then beat 3rd-seeded Fireballs GC 2 and 1 in the semifinals. Like Koepka, Smith is 1-1 in his singles matches, but Marc Leishman has won both of his singles matches to lead the team.
“It's obviously going to be hard work,” Smith said of knocking off the 4 Aces. “I think the golf course has got better and better as the week's gone on. I think typically Aussies like to play firm and fast golf courses and it's starting to get a little bit like that. We'll see what happens overnight.
“Obviously the team is playing pretty good, Leish and the other two boys dug me out of a hole today. So good to see that, and yeah, hopefully we can go out there and shoot as low as we can.”
The all-South African Stinger GC, like 4 Aces GC, had a first-day bye but had the most draining set of matches on Saturday against Crushers GC. Charl Schwartzel and Hennie du Plessis went the distance in winning the foursomes match, while Branden Grace lost his singles match in 20 holes. Captain Louis Oosthuizen provided the clinching point by beating Bryson DeChambeau on the 23rd hole. That’s 61 holes played by the South Africans on Saturday.
“We're not that old yet,” Oosthuizen said with a laugh. “We're OK. We'll be fine. Yeah, it's a few extra holes. But yeah, I'll probably have an early one tonight and be ready for tomorrow.”
The Stingers also are battling heath issues. Oosthuizen had to take up his left elbow after experiencing soreness on a drive, and Grace is still recovering from an oblique muscle that forced him to WD in Bangkok.
But the Stingers opened the inaugural year by winning in London by 14 strokes, the biggest margin of victory posted by any team this season. They’d love to end the year with the same kind of success.
“I’m just glad we made it to Sunday,” Oosthuizen said.
Sunday’s Championship round will include twosomes from different teams, with the captains paired. Johnson and Smith will be in one twosome going off the 1st hole, while Oosthuizen and Koepka will be in the other twosome going off the 10th hole. But captains’ groups will start at 12:25 p.m., 10 minutes later than the rest of the groups.
“Anything can happen tomorrow,” Koepka said. “You never know. Everybody's got 18 holes and especially with this finish, you never know.”