Paul Casey and Jason Kokrak both shot six-under rounds of 65 to take the lead after the first day at LIV Golf Mayakoba, the season-opening event of the new LIV Golf League.
Cleeks man Graeme McDowell shot a one-under 70 that included five birdies, two bogeys and a double, but it’s good enough to see the Portrush man in a tie for 12th place after 18 holes.
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 6:15 PM Irish time shotgun start. Casey, Kokrak and Uihlein will play in the lead group off the No. 1 tee.
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