POWER RANKINGS: HOW THE 12 TEAMS WILL FINISH IN MIAMI
Written by MIKE McALLISTER
MIAMI – For the 16 players of the four teams advancing to Sunday’s decisive round at the LIV Golf Team Championship, there will be no hiding. For the first time in this inaugural season, every score from every player will count towards his team’s cumulative total.
In the first five regular-season events, the top two scores in the first two rounds counted, with the top three scores counting in the final round. At the most recent events in Bangkok and Jeddah, three scores counted for every round.
But on Sunday at Trump National Doral, it’s four players, four counting scores for each team. That puts a premium on each team’s depth. No one can have a bad day and expect his team to raise the trophy and claim the $16 million top prize of the historic $50 million purse.
Of course, you’ve got to get there first. With a match-play style set-up for Friday’s quarterfinals and Saturday’s semifinals, it takes just two match wins out of the three played against your opponent to advance. Holes won matters the most in the two singles and one foursomes match. Oh, and the top seeds get a bye on Friday and can pick an opponent for Saturday.
“We’ve never had a team event like this in professional golf,” said Hy Flyers captain Phil Mickelson.
Ranking the 12 teams in Miami requires a few factors. For Friday-Saturday: Who thrives most under match-play pressure? For Sunday: Which players go low more often, and which ones can avoid the high scores? And certainly, who’s in form? And at a course that many players have experience on, does Doral suit their games?
The Power Rankings also reflect the predictions for this week. Nos. 1-4 is the predicted order of finish on Sunday of the four survivors. Nos. 5-8 are teams that reach the semifinals but lose. Nos. 9-12 are the team that don’t make it past the quarterfinals.
1. CRUSHERS GC. Bryson DeChambeau’s team didn’t win during the regular season, but the current lineup had three money finishes in four starts. Meanwhile, no foursome has a better collective scoring average, as DeChambeau, Paul Casey, Anirban Lahiri and Charles Howell III average nearly two strokes under par per round (and that’s without DeChambeau firing on all cylinders). Add in veteran presence, rounds logged at Doral, steady approach and ability to avoid the bad scores, and the format just seems set up for their success.
2. FIREBALLS GC. Could’ve easily put Sergio Garcia’s squad atop the rankings. No team is hotter at the moment, with a win in Bangkok and a second in Jeddah. Rookie Eugenio Chacarra’s individual victory in Thailand took this team up a notch, and Garcia has somehow found his form despite playing on a bum left knee. He also has played well at Doral, with a couple of third-place finishes. And of course, he’s terrific in match play, which should help get them through to Sunday.
3. 4 ACES GC. Yes, Dustin Johnson’s team is undefeated on U.S. soil, winning four straight during the regular season. But since the format was changed to three counting scores for every round, the Aces finished 6th and 4th. Concerning? Perhaps. DJ, Patrick Reed and Talor Gooch are a collective 142 under par, while Pat Perez is 5 over for his 18 rounds. 4 Aces shouldn’t have any trouble reaching Sunday, and if Perez has a good final day or Gooch has a great one, they could win in a breeze. DJ and Reed have both won at Doral, but they’ll be only 50% of the equation this week. That still might be enough.
4. SMASH GC. The Jeddah winners are riding a wave of confidence, and why not? Captain Brooks Koepka is back to his winning ways, Peter Uihlein is having his best year as a pro, Chase Koepka has been playing great on Sundays, and Jason Kokrak offers a steady hand. Don't be surprised if it's Smash facing Stinger GC in the semifinals. Going with the lineup in better form at the moment is the difference.
5. HY FLYERS GC. Captain Phil Mickelson was a cumulative 28 over in his first four LIV starts, but he’s 17 under in his last three. So he’s playing better, and is a proven commodity at Doral. No one in the field knows the course better. Matthew Wolff’s big game should thrive on the Blue Monster, and Bernd Wiesberger, like Mickelson, has turned his form around recently. Cameron Tringale can offer consistency. Hy Flyers have a tough draw in Cameron Smith and Punch GC on Friday, though.
6. MAJESTICKS GC. The threesome of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson have more than 300 matches of experience among them, which should be a big benefit in the first two rounds. Majesticks face Iron Heads GC in the quarterfinals, which has an ailing captain in Kevin Na, and very little match-play experience. Won’t be a surprise if Majesticks reach Sunday, especially since Poulter is in better form recently.
7. STINGER GC. Guaranteed a semifinal spot thanks to the bye, the South African team is a bit difficult to figure at the moment. Branden Grace suffered an oblique muscle injury in Bangkok and will likely not be at 100%. Hennie du Plessis is back in the lineup, which is great news if he plays like he did in London (second place), but that was four months ago. Captain Louis Oosthuizen has to play singles on Saturday, so he won’t be able to team up with Grace or Charl Schwartzel; he’s had considerable doubles success with both. Having said all that … they’re still dangerous.
8. TORQUE GC. Captain Joaquin Niemann is 42 under in his 12 LIV rounds, so he’s solid against any captain. Should recent winner Adrian Otaegui be playing singles on Friday instead of foursomes with Scott Vincent? Might be something to wonder about if Torque doesn’t advance, but Niemann likes Jediah Morgan’s length at Doral to be enough in the other singles match.
9. PUNCH GC. Toughest team to judge. On one hand … Cameron Smith. The Open Champion is certainly expected to carry his weight, even in a tough opening match against Mickelson. On the other hand ... Punch was 9th and 10th in the last two events. Marc Leishman is playing better but he goes against Wolff. Perhaps the Aussies have just been playing possum recently, waiting to pounce when the stakes are highest. If they win on Friday, watch out.
10. CLEEKS GC. Tough break with captain Martin Kaymer having to WD with injury. Shergo Al Kurdi filled in nicely as a replacement earlier this season for Majesticks, but now he’ll have to face other captains in singles, starting with Niemann on Friday. Difficult task for anyone, let alone a 19-year-old. Graeme McDowell has a good history at Doral, and maybe he and Richard Bland can lead an unexpected charge.
11. NIBLICKS GC. Three of the four Niblicks have a scoring average above par this season, so they’ll have to play better to have any chance against Smash on Friday. Harold Varner III, assuming the captain’s playing responsibilities, must face Brooks Koepka in what should be an entertaining match. James Piot has been playing better lately but is it enough against Uihlein? There's a reason why Koepka made Niblicks the top pick of any opponent.
12. IRON HEADS GC. Na came down with an illness in Bangkok and is in need of rest, but he’s a gamer who wants to lead his team. The Thai tandem should be fun to watch with the blend of Sadom Kaewkanjana’s accuracy and Phachara Khongwatmai’s power. But the Majesticks’ experience will be hard to overcome on Friday.