Niemann overcomes a two-stroke penalty and darkness to land first LIV win

Mark McGowan
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Joaquin Niemann (Photo: Chris Trotman/LIV Golf)

Mark McGowan

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Joaquin Niemann’s Sunday started with a two-stroke penalty but ended in a champagne celebration as he birdied the fourth playoff hole in near-darkness to beat Sergio Garcia and win his first individual LIV Golf title at Mayakoba.

“I’m pretty happy that the day ended this way, especially how the morning started,” said the Torque GC captain. “I think dinner is going to taste a little bit better than breakfast.”

Meanwhile, Jon Rahm bogeyed his final two holes to miss the playoff, but his new Legion XIII expansion team captured the team trophy in an impressive LIV Golf debut, earning the title by four shots over defending Mayakoba champions Crushers GC in the first regular-season Sunday in which every score counted for each team. Legion XIII shot a cumulative score of 14 under on Sunday, best of any team.

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“It’s very nice in a day in which in any normal tournament I probably would have been upset at my finish to actually have something to celebrate,” said Rahm, the reigning Masters champ who joined LIV Golf in December. “That is one of the big reasons why I decided to transition.

It was a drama-filled Sunday at El Camaleon, and it started even before the first tee shot was struck when Niemann’s 4-shot lead through 36 holes was reduced to two shots due to a rules violation regarding incorrect relief in Saturday’s round.

But the Torque GC captain – who opened the tournament with a 12-under 59 on Friday – overcame the setback, shooting a 1-under 70 to finish at 12 under to match Garcia, who shot a final-round 66 to make his second LIV Golf playoff. Last year in Singapore, he lost in a playoff to Talor Gooch.

Niemann and Garcia exchanged pars for the first three playoff holes. In the fading light and with the gallery chanting for one more hole, both players agreed to continue.

Garcia’s approach shot on the fourth playoff hole found a small patch of rough near the greenside bunker while Niemann’s finished on the fringe. He buried the putt as the nearby scoreboard provided light.

“The last putt, which it was super dark, I think it probably helped me just not being so picky on picking my spot and just looking at the hole, getting a feeling and just get it there,” said the 25-year-old Niemann. “It was the best way to end it up. I wanted to make a putt on the last one to win.”

Rahm finished at 10 under to share third place with Stinger GC’s Dean Burmester. His 1-under 70 was the highest score of the four Legion XIII players.

Tyrrell Hatton contributed the team’s lowest score, a 7-under 64 which was the low round in the field on Sunday. Kieran Vincent added a 69, but the most impressive performance may have been from 19-year-old Caleb Surratt, making his professional debut this week.

After suffering a four-putt triple bogey at the par-4 17th, Surratt reeled off five consecutive birdies to end his round with a 4-under 67. Those five birdies were vital for Legion XIII to hold off the hard-charging Crushers down the stretch.

“I told myself after that triple that I’m not going to be shaken from anything that happens,” said Surratt, who only recently moved out of his dorm room at the University of Tennessee. “I put my head down and played.”

During Legion XIII’s podium celebration, Rahm said he was careful not to spray the teenager with too much champagne. “I didn’t want to overdo with him,” he said.

Said Surratt: “I was just happy to hold the trophy.”

Graeme McDowell’s Jekyll and Hyde week continued as the Portrush man had four bogeys and a double bogey in his first 13 holes to slip to six-over on the day. But similar to Saturday, he turned it on over the closing stretch, mixing three birdies and an eagle to cover the four-hole stretch from four to seven – his 14th to 17th – in five-under.

Still, his tie for 43rd at +1 will be a disappointing start to his year in the fresh company of Brooks Koepka’s Smash GC team, who finished seventh overall in the team standings.

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