LIV GOLF MAYAKOBA: CASEY, KOKRAK SHARE RD. 1 LEAD; CRUSHERS TAKE TEAM LEAD

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Written by
LIV GOLF STAFF
Feb 24 2023
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2023-02-24T00:00:00.000Z
Mayakoba Round 1 Highlights

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Paul Casey had to shrug off a double bogey. Jason Kokrak had to deal with a backup driver. Both veterans overcame those obstacles Friday, shooting 6-under 65s to share the first-round lead of LIV Golf Mayakoba, the season-opening event of the new LIV Golf League.

Casey’s Crushers GC lead the team competition at El Camaleon Golf Course by three strokes with a collective 10 under. Kokrak’s Smash GC and defending team champions 4Aces GC share second at 7 under.

Casey, who teed off on the 6th hole, rolled in a 60-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole and was cruising with a bogey-free 5 under through his first 14 holes. He then suffered his only bad swing of the day, a poor tee shot at the par-4 second that found the penalty area, leading to a double bogey.

“I’ve never played here before,” said the 45-year-old Casey. “I’m used to desert golf, when you’ve got that feeling of two hazards either side of the fairway. This place just puts you on edge … There are so many difficult tee shots that kind of get your attention. They kind of make you a bit nervous, to be honest, in this wind.”

But after quickly dropping off the lead, the Englishman responded by finishing his round with three consecutive birdies to climb back to the top.

“Maybe I was in the zone for the last three,” Casey laughed. “It was a really good day. A blemish is a blemish, but it is what it is. I’d be surprised if anyone gets through this tournament this week without making some kind of error like that.”

Kokrak didn’t have any bogeys in his round, but that doesn’t mean it was a completely error-free day. An errant tee shot at the 14th hole forced him to scramble, but he saved par by chipping in from off the green. He also used his putter from off the green at the second hole to drain a long birdie putt.

The 37-year-old Kokrak started his calendar year with two top-20 finishes in the Middle East and was particularly pleased with his driver in that stretch. But on Sunday while working in a simulator before leaving for Mexico, the face of his driver popped out. That has forced him to use his backup driver this week at El Camaleon.

He said the backup isn’t exactly identical, and described his first practice day on the range this week as “horrific, hitting it left.”

He spent the next two days tweaking his backup driver. Other than the 14th hole, he was solid off the tee, hitting 10 of 14 fairways.

“I knew I was hitting it well because all the other golf clubs I was hitting were right on target and quality golf shots, so I knew it wasn’t the golf swing,” Kokrak said. “It was just something small with the driver. Hopefully we have that figured out and we’ll drive it good for the rest of the week.”

The closest pursuers to the co-leaders are Carlos Ortiz (Fireballs GC), Peter Uihlein (4Aces GC) and Talor Gooch (RangeGoats GC). Ortiz and teammate Abraham Ancer, who each represented Mexico in the Olympics, received huge support Friday from their fellow countrymen.

“I love when I play in front of my family and friends and just Mexicans overall or Latins,” Ortiz said. “… I just tried to find a way to make things happen.”

Saturday’s second round of LIV Golf Mayakoba is set for a 1:15 p.m. ET shotgun start. Casey, Kokrak and Uihlein will play in the lead group off the No. 1 tee.

TEAM COUNTING SCORES

Here are the standings and counting scores for Rd. 1 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 three rounds wins the team title.

1. CRUSHERS GC (-10): Paul Casey 65, Charles Howell III 68, Anirban Lahiri 70

T2. SMASH GC (-7): Jason Kokrak 65, Matthew Wolff 70, Brooks Koepka 71

T2. 4ACES GC (-7): Peter Uihlein 67, Dustin Johnson 68, Pat Perez 71

4. RIPPER GC (-6): Marc Leishman 68, Cameron Smith 69, Jed Morgan 70

5. FIREBALLS GC (-4): Carlos Ortiz 67, Abraham Ancer 70, Sergio Garcia 72

6. MAJESTICKS GC (-1): Ian Poulter 68, Sam Horsfield 71, Henrik Stenson 73

7. RANGEGOATS GC (E): Talor Gooch 67, Bubba Watson 72, Harold Varner III 74

8. HYFLYERS GC (+1): Cameron Tringale 70, Phil Mickelson 72, Brendan Steele 72

9. STINGER GC (+2): Branden Grace 68, Dean Burmester 73, Charl Schwartzel 74

10. IRON HEADS GC (+3): Sam Vincent 71, Danny Lee 71, Kevin Na 74

11. TORQUE GC (+5): Sebastian Munoz 72, Mito Pereira 72, Joaquin Niemann 74

12. CLEEKS GC (+6): Graeme McDowell 70, Richard Bland 73, Bernd Wiesberger 76

PLAYER NOTES

NEWCOMERS

Six players made their LIV Golf debuts on Friday. Here is how they fared:

Danny Lee (Iron Heads GC), even-par 71

Brendan Steele (HyFlyers GC), 1-over 72

Mito Pereira (Torque GC), 1-over 72

Sebastian Munoz (Torque GC), 1-over 72

Dean Burmester (Stinger GC), 2-over 73

Thomas Pieters (RangeGoats GC), 5-over 76

TRANSFERS

Three top-12 point producers from last year’s Invitational Series changed teams during the off-season transfer window.

Peter Uihlein (No. 3 last year), who joined 4Aces GC, shot a 4-under 67 highlighted by an eagle at the 554-yard par-5 fifth. He had the lowest score on his team and is tied for 3rd.

Matthew Wolff (No. 6 last year), who joined Smash GC, shot a 1-under 70. He opened his round with two double bogeys in his first five holes before playing the remainder of his round in a bogey-free 5 under. He is tied for 12th.

Talor Gooch (No. 11 last year), who joined RangeGoats GC, shot a bogey-free 4-under 67. Like Uihlein, he produced the lowest score for his team and is tied for 3rd.

WATSON’S FIRST ROUND

RangeGoats GC captain Bubba Watson played his first LIV Golf round Friday, shooting a 1-over 72. He was 1 under on his round until bogeying two of his last four holes. Watson joined LIV Golf in the middle of last year but was a non-playing captain while rehabbing from surgery on his right knee.

DEFENDING INDIVIDUAL CHAMP

4Aces GC Captain Dustin Johnson won the season-long Individual Champion title last season during the inaugural Invitational Series. Johnson opened the defense of his title with a 3-under 68 and is in a five-way tie for sixth that also includes the Stingers GC’s Branden Grace, who finished second behind Johnson last season.

STAT LEADERS

Driving distance – Dustin Johnson, 320.4-yard average

Driving accuracy – Charles Howell III, 85.71% (12 of 14)

Greens in regulation – Charles Howell III, 88.89% (16 of 18)

Scrambling – Jason Kokrak (8 of 8), Talor Gooch (9 of 9), 100%

Fewest putts – Jason Kokrak, 21 putts