Samooja, Vincent and Kozuma earn spots on LIV Golf League

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(Photo by Montana Pritchard/LIV Golf)

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Finland’s Kalle Samooja, Zimbabwe’s Kieran Vincent and Japan’s Jinichiro Kozuma survived a pressure-packed 36 holes Sunday at LIV Golf Promotions to earn much-coveted entry into the 2024 LIV Golf League.

Samooja produced the lowest score of the marathon final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club at 8 under, fueled by a morning round of 7-under 65. Vincent and Kozuma each shot 7 under on the day to make a three-man playoff for the final two spots that also included Laurie Canter. Vincent birdied the second playoff hole and Kozuma parred it to join Samooja as LIV Golf’s newest members.

“Once I came here, I knew this was the only thing I wanted to achieve,” said Samooja. “… It’s a big step forward in my career.”

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“I don’t think the tears are doing it justice,” said an emotional Vincent, who joins older brother Scott as a LIV Golf member. “Obviously watching my brother the whole year, seeing how life-changing it can be, I just hope that this propels my career to a whole new level.”

Vincent was one of LIV Golf’s reserves in 2023, while Kozuma made three starts during the beta-test 2022 LIV Golf Invitational Series.

“I wanted to come back again for sure,” Kozuma said, “and to be real now, it’s like a dream.”

The three players emerged from the pack of 73 entrants in LIV Golf’s inaugural Promotions tournament that offers a pathway into the league. Kozuma played all four rounds – with scores reset after each of the first two rounds – while Samooja and Vincent played three rounds after meeting the eligibility criteria for the first-round bye.

Twenty players competed in Sunday’s marathon finale. LIV Golf’s global appeal was reflected with the top three coming from three different continents.

“I think we had the best three guys from the field to get their cards,” Samooja said.

The 35-year-old Finn set the early pace with the morning 65 that put him two shots ahead. But after returning for the afternoon round, he appeared stuck in neutral as the field caught up to him. At various points, four other players had at least a share of the lead, including Vincent, Canter, South African Jaco Ahlers and American Zach Bauchou.

But Samooja delivered the decisive blow at the par-4 17th with a 50-foot birdie putt that he called one of the best in his career. That moved him into a tie for the lead at 7 under, and he then birdied the par-5 18th to avoid the playoff.

“Kieran played better golf than I did, honestly, in the afternoon,” Samooja said. “Tee to green he was very solid. … But it comes down to the last few holes.”

In the first playoff hole, Canter had the advantage after reaching the 18th green in two while Kozuma’s drive bounced into the water on the right side and Vincent had to lay up after finding the rough on the left side. But Canter three-putted and Kozuma produced a clutch fourth shot. All three players parred to extend the playoff under the lights.

“I was just a little bit in a give-up mood after I missed my tee shot, but just thinking hard to never give up,” Kozuma said. “When I made the par putt on the first playoff hole, I thought that it could be OK for me.”

In the second playoff hole, Vincent reached the green in two and Kozuma avoided trouble. Canter found the water with his second shot off a tough lie, allowing the other two some breathing room.

It was a difficult ending for Canter, a full-time LIV player in 2022 and a reserve in 2023.

“Obviously credit to Laurie,” Vincent said. “He’s an unbelievable player and obviously got a fair taste of LIV Golf last year, and I hope this isn’t the end for him for LIV Golf. He really deserves to be out here.”

For 2024, it will be Samooja, Vincent and Kozuma who’ll be in action for LIV Golf’s season opener at Mayakoba on Feb. 2-4. Samooja will be LIV Golf’s first full-time Finnish player.

Asked how his home country will react to his new status as a LIV Golf member, Samooja said, “Golf is booming back in Finland … It’s going to be massive for Finnish golf.”

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