McDowell in the hunt after day one at LIV Las Vegas

Mark McGowan
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Graeme McDowell (Photo by Doug DeFelice/LIV Golf)

Mark McGowan

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Graeme McDowell posted his best opening score since LIV’s arrival to sit just three off the lead in a share of seventh place after day one at Las Vegas County Club.

Starting on the sixth hole in the shotgun start format, the Portrush man opened his birdie account with a three on the par-4 seventh, then added two more back-to-back on 12 and 13 before a bogey at 14, his only dropped shot of the day, momentarily halted the charge. He’d respond in ideal fashion with birdie at the par-5 15th, covering his opening nine in three-under.

Another birdie at the first took him to -4 for the day, and he’d par his way to the par-3 fifth – his 18th – where a pinpoint iron shot left him a short birdie putt, only to see the four-footer slide by, ending an otherwise excellent opening effort on a rather sour note.

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Harold Varner and Paul Casey each shot seven-under 63s to grab the first round lead on a chilly Thursday. They share a two-shot advantage over Jason Kokrak and a trio of RangeGoats GC players – captain Bubba Watson, Thomas Pieters and new acquisition Matthew Wolff.

Not surprising, the RangeGoats lead the team competition at 15-under, one shot ahead of Kokrak and his Smash GC team.

Last week in the 2024 season opener at Mayakoba, Varner finished in last place on the individual leaderboard in his debut after being traded by the RangeGoats to 4Aces GC. He arrived in Las Vegas determined to bounce back for his new team.

“I’m here to play good golf, and as a competitor I think that’s what you’re supposed to do,” said Varner, who shot 14 over on the tight El Camaleón course. “I was kind of pissed off – first of all, it’s embarrassing and second of all, I think I’m better than that, so prove it.”

As for Casey, his 63 ties for his lowest score in 52 career regular-season rounds on LIV Golf. It comes after a 2023 season in which he battled a variety of ailments and never finished inside the top 20 in points in the last 12 regular-season starts.

The extended offseason allowed him to heal, and he entered 2024 with high hopes and renewed confidence. On Thursday, he followed an early bogey with an eight-hole stretch that included six birdies and plenty of strong iron play, hitting 15 of 18 greens.

“I’ve been working on the game very hard through the wintertime and had a decent result last week in Mayakoba (T-11),” Casey said, “but I just felt like I started to build some confidence out there, and it felt kind of vintage stuff. It was fun.”

It’s shaping up to be a very interesting weekend with all of the big guns lurking. 2023 Order of Merit winner Talor Gooch sits alongside McDowell at -4, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith, Tyrrell Hatton and Adrian Meronk are among the 11 names tied for 11th at -3, and Jon Rahm, last week’s champion Joaquin Niemann and reigning PGA Championship title holder Brooks Koepka are a shot further adrift at -2.

Given that Torque GC Captain Joaquin Niemann shot a 59 last week on an even tighter Mayakoba course, the talk in the locker room centered around the possibility of another sub-60 score.

“There’s a deep score out there,” said Crushers Captain Bryson DeChambeau, who owns LIV Golf’s lowest score of 58 shot last year at Greenbrier. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a 59 this week. It’s definitely doable.”

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