Graeme McDowell failed to build on his best opening round since joining LIV, shooting a level-par 70 in round two at Las Vegas Country Club to fall seven back of the fast pace set by Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.
It was a case of one step forward, one step back for the Portrush man who fired three birdies but mixed in three bogeys as well, falling back from tied seventh to tied 26th as several players went low around the desert layout.
Both Johnson and DeChambeau began the day at -3, four off the first round lead held by DeChambeau’s Crushers teammate Paul Casey. DeChambeau, who won twice on the LIV circuit in 2023, including at the Greenbrier where he shot a final-round 58, carded nine birdies – including four-in-a-row from 13 through 16 – and a single bogey to blaze his way to the top of the leaderboard where he was joined by Johnson, also a two-time LIV winner.
“It was the weirdest 62 I’ve ever had,” DeChambeau said afterwards. “Usually when you’re playing well, you’ll finish it off and you’ll shoot 62, even if you make a bogey on the last hole to shoot 62 or whatnot. But I had five straight holes where they were all gettable, and I was at 8-under par, and I was like, I could easily go 59, 58. If I play perfect golf, it’s 57.
“I was even thinking that on 15. I was like counting the holes, and I birdied 15, birdied 16, then I just got a little uncomfortable with the driver. I don’t know why. Then just didn’t wedge it close enough and didn’t go my way on that — I lipped out a 30-footer on the last, so it was kind of weird.
“It was just weird; it was like, oh, it’s going to happen. Nope. No, it’s not.”
The 4 Aces captain went bogey free, firing eight birdies, incuding three-in-a-row to close out the day and sit alongside DeChambeau, two clear of the trio of Jon Rahm, Peter Uihlein and Matthew Wolff. And the group starting on hole number one will feature Johnson, DeChambeau and Rahm in what is a mouthwatering prospect.
“Yeah, I think any golf tournament, it doesn’t matter,” said Johnson when informed of the marquee final grouping for Saturday’s third and final round. “But LIV, obviously there’s a lot of really good players that are a part of LIV. I think each week you see the best players are always in the last groups teeing off on Sunday, or Saturday, I guess, tomorrow.”
Rahm, who’d bogeyed his final two holes last week to see hopes of a debut victory slip through his fingers, had endured a frustrating opening round, but he was back in form on day two, making seven birdies with no dropped shots to roar back into contention.
“Yeah. I mean, two shots is gettable anywhere,” said Rahm. “Could be one simple hole and you’re back at it.
“I’m going to need a low one tomorrow. Bryson, Dustin or somebody else at 8- or 9-under is most likely going to come in and shoot somewhat similar to what we shot today. We’re going to need to post something not extremely low but a low round, as well, to end up with the win. Unless it’s a windy day, it’s a golf course that somebody is going to come out and play good and make birdies.”
The top-heavy leaderboard also sees Jason Kokrak and last year’s Rankings winner Talor Gooch come in a shot further adrift at -8, one ahead of the quartet of Cameron Smith, Casey who never really got going and fell victim to a double bogey in the early stages, Bubba Watson and Laurie Canter.