LAS VEGAS – Dustin Johnson was asked Tuesday about the offseason trade in which his 4Aces GC acquired Harold Varner III for Peter Uihlein. As he discussed the details of how it evolved and his fairly unemotional approach to the move, DJ turned to Varner and smiled. “I didn’t really want you, to be honest.”
Varner, always quick with the quip, shot back, “Understandable after last week.”
Indeed, the 2024 LIV Golf League season opener at Mayakoba didn’t exactly go as planned for Varner individually and the 4Aces as a team. To say it was a clunker of a week is putting it mildly, as the Aces finished 12th (out of now 13 teams) in the team competition, while Varner finished last at 14 over.
Considering the Aces are LIV Golf’s winningest team – with the inaugural Team Championship in 2022, and six other tournament trophies and the No. 1 seed in each of the first two years – it’s always surprising whenever they aren’t in the mix on Sunday.
That’s not to say they’re above the rare stumble. Last season at LIV Golf Greenbrier, they finished in last place on a course that seemed to fit none of their games. They also finished in ninth place in Singapore. Last week’s result was just the third time in 23 LIV Golf events they haven’t finished inside the top six.
Meanwhile, the expansion Legion XIII led by Jon Rahm sent an early message to the rest of the league by winning in their debut as a team. The Aces finished 27 shots off the pace.
But with Thursday’s first round of LIV Golf Las Vegas looming, there are no panic buttons being pushed.
“We’re not too worried about it, that’s for sure,” said Johnson.
“It’s an offweek,” added Patrick Reed.
“It’s early. It’s the first week,” noted Pat Perez.
Said Varner: “It’s a season for a reason. I can’t dwell on it. It’s over.”
Indeed, there are actually signs for optimism – if you can get past the final results.
Johnson, for once, was very happy with his performance, a tie for fifth in which he shot 8 under. A year ago, he started slowly out of the gate, finishing 35th at 4 over, and that seemed to drag longer than expected.
Although he admittedly didn’t spend much time at the golf course during this offseason, he focused his prep work for Mayakoba on his short game and putting, the part of his game that he thought might be a little rusty. He tied for sixth in the field in putting average last week and 11th in scrambling.
“I was pretty surprised with my finish last week,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to lie. I was happy with it.”
Meanwhile, Reed was certainly encouraged by his opening round, a bogey-free 7-under 64. Since joining LIV Golf, his slow starts at tournaments have impacted his ability to win an individual title (he’s usually lights-out on Sunday), so the quick start was a good sign – even if he did finish the day five strokes off the lead after Joaquin Niemann’s historic 59.
Reed followed with consecutive 2-over 73s but would’ve still produced a top-11 finish had he not triple-bogeyed his final hole.
“I haven't had that much success there at Mayakoba,” Reed said. “Played back there on the PGA Tour, and it's just one of those golf courses that I feel like I'm dropping on every hole. I barely miss a shot and next thing you know I'm taking a penalty drop and then I hit a couple loose ones. That was probably one of the better finishes I've had there.”
Perez does have a good history at Mayakoba but last week didn’t show it, as he was 11 over through two rounds.
He did bounce back in the opening round with five birdies on his final nine holes after losing seven shots in two holes. And he also bounced back in the final round, with four birdies after an early triple.
The biggest positive for Perez the rest of this season may be his fitness. He’s lost 30 pounds and is down to 194, thanks to more than 500 sessions on his Peloton bike and an improved diet with reduced intake.
He’s lost so much weight that he had to cut a couple of notches in his belt to fit his size 33 waist. It’s the kind of shape that could pay dividends during the business end of the season at the Team Championship in the fall.
“I feel great, as good as I’ve felt in a long time,” Perez said.
As for Varner, well, he’s been on the receiving end of numerous barbs since his result in Mayakoba. Many of those from his teammates.
“They’re heckling me right now,” Varner said, “so I’m ready for the week to start so I can redeem myself some way, somehow.”
This week in Las Vegas would seem to be a perfect place to get things right for a team named the 4Aces. Perez plans to avoid the nightlife on the Strip in order to maintain focus on the tournament. DJ and Varner are planning to go to Sunday’s Super Bowl. “It’s the greatest sporting event in all of sports,” Varner said. “It’s insane.”
Reed will not stay over after Saturday’s final round, however. He wants to see his kids. And there are things to do at his house.
But the first priority will be golf. After last week, the Aces are eager for a new hand.