MARANA, Ariz. – Australian Marc Leishman played mostly social golf during his extended offseason. Even though he’s back to business, he’s maintained his relaxed approach – and it paid off Friday at LIV Golf Tucson.
Leishman (Ripper GC) opened with a 6-under 65 at The Gallery South Course to grab a one-shot lead over Abraham Ancer (Fireballs GC), Matthew Wolff (Smash GC) and Louis Oosthuizen (Stinger GC captain). Peter Uihlein (4Aces GC) and Torque GC teammates Joaquin Niemann and David Puig are tied for fifth, two shots behind.
“I’m enjoying my golf at the moment … Playing with no consequences over the offseason kind of gave me a little bit of confidence with some of the shots I hit and how they turned out,” said the 39-year-old Leishman, who is seeking his 14th career pro victory.
In the team competition, Torque GC leads at 10 under thanks to counting rounds by Niemann (67), Puig (67) and Sebastian Munoz (69). The Spanish-speaking team is one shot ahead of three teams – Smash GC, Fireballs GC and Iron Heads GC.
Torque comes off its first-ever podium finish, a third place at LIV Golf Mayakoba. The next step for Captain Niemann and his crew is a champagne first-place celebration.
“I’m pretty excited to see what’s going to happen on the weekend,” Niemann said of Torque, the youngest of the 12 LIV Golf League teams.
The youngest player is the 21-year-old Puig, who played collegiately at Arizona State in Tempe before turning pro last year to become a LIV Golf member. Puig recently played a practice round with Arizona State legend Phil Mickelson and carded 11 birdies. He produced seven on Friday, tying for the most in the field.
“It’s nice to see David playing great,” Niemann said. “… Pretty cool to see him scoring well. The practice rounds, you could tell he was feeling like home.”
As for the affable Leishman, he and his Ripper GC teammates – captained by reigning Open Champion Cameron Smith – are building the type of camaraderie they hope will manifest itself into team trophies. Next month, LIV Golf travels to Australia for the first time, with huge crowds expected for LIV Golf Adelaide.
“It’ll be nice to be able to play in front of home crowds in Adelaide, which is a really cool city,” Leishman said. “They love their sport. Certainly excited to get down there and just showcase what we’ve got with LIV.”
The immediate focus, of course, will be on the final two rounds of LIV Golf Tucson. Saturday’s tickets have been sold out. Leishman and the players chasing after him hope to feed off their energy.
“I actually holed a nice putt in 16 in front of the Birdie Shack,” Leishman said. “It was nice to make a birdie in front of there and get a nice cheer.”
Here are the standings and counting scores for Rd. 1 of the team competition at LIV Golf Tucson. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.
1. TORQUE GC (-10): Joaquin Niemann 67, David Puig 67, Sebastian Munoz 69
T2. SMASH GC (-9): Matthew Wolff 66, Brooks Koepka 69, Chase Koepka 69
T2. IRON HEADS (-9): Danny Lee 68, Kevin Na 68, Scott Vincent 68
T2. FIREBALLS GC (-9): Abraham Ancer 66, Sergio Garcia 68, Eugenio Chacarra 70
T5. RIPPER GC (-7): Marc Leishman 65, Matt Jones 70, Cameron Smith 71
T5. 4ACES GC (-7): Peter Uihlein 67, Pat Perez 68, Patrick Reed 71
7. HYFLYERS GC (-6): Cameron Tringale 68, Brendan Steele 69, Phil Mickelson 70
T8. STINGER GC (-5): Louis Oosthuizen 66, Branden Grace 70, Dean Burmester 72
T8. CRUSHERS GC (-5): Charles Howell III 69, Paul Casey 69, Anirban Lahiri 70
10. RANGEGOATS GC (-4): Thomas Pieters 69, Talor Gooch 70, Harold Varner III 70
11. MAJESTICKS GC (E): Sam Horsfield 69, Ian Poulter 72, Henrik Stenson 72
12. CLEEKS GC (+1): Laurie Canter 70, Graeme McDowell 72, Bernd Wiesberger 72
OOSTHUIZEN’S RECORD 6 STRAIGHT BIRDIES
Through his first 12 holes, Louis Oosthuizen had posted 11 pars and 1 bogey. Suddenly, everything changed.
The Stinger GC Captain finished his round with six consecutive birdies, the longest birdie streak in a single round in LIV Golf’s young history.
“I wanted to try and keep going, really,” said Oosthuizen, who’s managing an injury issue to his left elbow. “… I had to make a bogey to realize that I need to pull my finger a little bit out.”
Two of his Stinger teammates, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace, won the first two events in the 2002 Invitational Series season. If Oosthuizen can build on his six-birdie streak this weekend, he could be the third South African to claim an individual title.
“I just gave myself great opportunities coming in, and you get those runs,” he said. “I can’t remember when last I had six in a row. It must be years ago.”
STAR GROUP: DJ, BROOKS, BRYSON
Three of LIV Golf’s biggest stars – 4Aces GC Captain Dustin Johnson, Crushers GC Captain Bryson DeChambeau and Smash GC Captain Brooks Koepka – were paired in the same group for the first time in their LIV Golf careers.
The trio started their rounds on the second hole, with DeChambeau making birdie, Koepka bogey and Johnson finding trouble off the tee, leading to the first of two double bogeys on the day.
Koepka also suffered an early double bogey and was 1 over through 15 holes before producing three consecutive birdies to end his round. He finished with a 2-under 69.
DeChambeau was 2 under through four holes but the round got away from him in his last six holes, as he made three bogeys to finish with a 1-over 72.
After suffering two double bogeys in his first six holes, Johnson put together 10 consecutive pars. Like Koepka, he then birdied his last three holes to salvage a 72.
FAMILIAR GREENS FOR LEE
Danny Lee won the 2008 U.S. Amateur at age 18, the youngest champion in tournament history. The host venue that year was famed Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina – which just happens to be the inspiration for the South Course’s turtleback greens.
Perhaps it was no surprise that the Iron Heads player seemed comfortable on Friday in his second start since joining LIV Golf in the offseason.
“Around the greens are very similar to Pinehurst,” Lee said. “If you miss the green over here in a similar spot, it’s almost impossible to get up-and-down.”
LIV Golf Mayakoba champion Charles Howell III opened with a bogey, then suffered a double bogey on his fourth hole. He immediately answered with four consecutive birdies and eventually finished with a 2-under 69.
PHIL IN ARIZONA
World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, who won his first pro tournament in Tucson as a 20-year-old amateur at Arizona State, thrilled his huge gallery with a birdie at the par-5 first to open his round. The HyFlyers GC captain then followed with 10 consecutive pars, and eventually signed for a 1-under 70.
STENSON’S SOUTH COURSE RETURN
Majesticks GC Captain Henrik Stenson won a match play event at The Gallery South Course in 2007, and took third place the following year. He was one of nine players with prior tournament experience at this week’s host course. Stenson double-bogeyed his fourth hole and was 4 over through seven holes before rallying for a 1-over 72.
Driving distance – Charl Schwartzel, 363.7-yard average
Driving accuracy – Brendan Steele, Sebastian Munoz, Eugenio Chacarra, Graeme McDowell, 92.86% (13 of 14)
Greens in regulation – Joaquin Niemann, Paul Casey, Chase Koepka, Anirban Lahiri, 88.89% (16 of 18)
Scrambling – Matthew Wolff (6 of 6), Abraham Ancer (5 of 5), Phil Mickelson (4 of 4), 100%
Fewest putts – Matthew Wolff, Peter Uihlein, 25 putts
Most birdies – Marc Leishman, Brooks Koepka, David Puig, 7
Bogey-free rounds – Matthew Wolff (66), Abraham Ancer (66)