LIV Golf’s second event of the 2023 season gets underway in Arizona this Friday at Tucson’s The Gallery Golf Club, and event organisers have lined up one group in particular that captures the imagination.
Dustin Johnson will play alongside Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Johnson and Koepka were once good friends but saw their relationship sour somewhat in recent years, whereas Koepka and DeChambeau have been involved in considerable back-and-forth jibing before allegedly burying the hatchet with a somewhat awkward ‘hug’ after the US Ryder Cup victory at Whistling Straits.
Golf fans had been crying out for the Koepka-DeChambeau pairing in particular, but at the height of the rancour, the PGA Tour and the majors’ governing bodies declined.
“Believe it or not, we squashed it,” Koepka said of the feud with Bryson during an Instagram Q&A last month. “We’re good. I actually talk to him quite frequently because of what’s going on here at LIV. Pretty much on an every-other-day basis. So we’ve got a good open line of communication.”
With the 48-man roster locked since just before last month’s season opener at Mayakoba, the Saudi-backed league have flown under the radar in recent weeks, but in spite of Koepka’s insistence that the feud is behind them, the pairing with Bryson will be an additional draw as it competes for the global golf audience opposite the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship.
Charles Howell III raced to victory in Mexico three weeks ago, pocketing a $4 million cheque for first place, along with an additional $750,000 as he led the Bryson DeChambeau captained Crushers to team glory as well.
Dustin Johnson’s 4Aces were the runners-up, thanks in no small measure to new recruit Peter Uihlein’s performance, where he made it an American one-two in the singles division as he finished four strokes shy of Howell III in solo second.
As impressive as Howell’s performance was, LIV’s big names were unexpectedly out of sorts in Mayakoba, with Johnson, DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka all absent from the top half of the leaderboard, and though Cameron Smith would finish tied fifth, he was 10 strokes off the lead after 54 holes.
The golf course at Mayakoba has always delivered a variety of winners, including Graeme McDowell at the PGA Tour’s hosting here in 2015, and it’s seldom they’d fit the ‘bomber’ tag, so it should come as little surprise really that some of the big names struggled, but The Gallery Golf Club is a vastly different challenge.
A two-time host of the WGC Matchplay, the Gallery is more favourable to the longer hitters and Henrik Stenson in 2007 and Tiger Woods in 2008 were the eventual tournament winners – both incredible ball strikers.
Naturally, Stenson will have fond (if distant) memories of The Gallery and having won on debut at LIV Golf Bedminster last year, has shown that he is still capable of upsetting the applecart and showing the younger players a trick or two.
Cameron Smith starts as tournament favourite, however, and having been unable to defend his Players Championship title last week, the reigning Open champion may have a chip on his shoulder. Joaquin Niemann is second in the betting, just ahead of Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey.
Last year’s individual champion, Johnson’s seven-over final round at Mayakoba came as a major surprise to all, but with an additional three weeks of rust removed and the upcoming Masters just around the corner, we can expect to see a much improved DJ this week.
The event runs Friday to Sunday, and as always, will begin with a shotgun start. Players will tee off at 10:15 AM local time (5:15 PM Irish time), with Cameron Smith, Charles Howell III and Phil Mickelson set to go off the first tee, with Johnson, Koepka and DeChambeau a hole ahead on two.
Graeme McDowell will start on the 15th hole alongside 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Spanish sensation Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra.
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