Smash GC’s dominant team performance in Saturday’s final round of LIV Golf Las Vegas allowed captain Brooks Koepka to celebrate his fifth trophy of any kind since joining LIV Golf, while teammate Talor Gooch became the first player to win trophies with three different teams.
But perhaps the most meaningful celebration came from Graeme McDowell, who joined Smash as a free-agent signee during the offseason. For the first time in his 24 starts in LIV Golf, G-Mac was able to enjoy popping champagne bottles on the podium.
“They keep handing me the trophy because I’ve never had one before,” said the 44-year-old McDowell.
For the second week running, the stars seemed to be aligning for LIV Golf and a leading trio and final pairing of Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm was a mouthwatering threeball propsect.
Once again it was unusually cold in the desert, but the wind was much more of a factor than it had been on days one and two at Las Vegas Country Club. Just 17 of 54 players broke par, and the field stroke average was more than three strokes higher than the previous two rounds.
Johnson shot a gritty final-round one-under 69 to finish at 12-under, one shot better than Gooch and RangeGoats GC’s Peter Uihlein. Johnson was the only one of the three marquee players in the final group to break par, as Jon Rahm shot 71 and Bryson DeChambeau shot 74.
There had been a four-way tie at -10 with four holes to go, with Peter Uihlein, Matt Wolff and Jason Kokrak joining Rahm and DJ, whilst DeChambeau had dropped back early in the round and failed to get back on level terms.
Rahm bogeyed two of his final four holes, one of which was the par-5 15th where he unbelievably shanked his third shot, and cut a frustrated figure for the second week running.
But DJ looked back to the cold-blooded finisher of old as he holed a slippery 15-footer for birdie on 15 and then another from around 12 feet on 17 to take a one-shot advantage to the 18th tee and a two-putt par at the last was enough to secure win number three for the two-time major winner.
“It’s a great win, and obviously today was tough,” said Johnson, who now leads the Individual Championship race through the first two events. “I knew it was going to be tough obviously with the conditions.”
McDowell , thrived in the tough conditions. His five-under 65 was two strokes better than any other player, as he fueled Smash’s late surge on the final holes to break open a tight leaderboard and surge to an eventual comprehensive victory in the team standings.
“I’ve been living in Florida for about 15 years, but thankfully I still remember how to play in the wind,” said McDowell, the only player to produce a bogey-free round Saturday, missing just one fairway and three greens. “The game has really been trending for the last six months.”
With Gooch shooting 67 and Koepka and Jason Kokrak contributed 69s, Smash shot 10 under as a team. The other 12 teams were a cumulative 66 over.
It’s the kind of performance that Koepka envisioned when he overhauled his roster in the offseason, trading for Gooch – last year’s Individual Champion – and adding McDowell to solidify the roster and provide the kind of grit he felt his team was missing during a disappointing 2023 season.
“That was the plan, to bring in two guys that have experience, that know how to win, and to be in this situation where I feel like we’re competing every week,” Koepka said.
Johnson appears set to compete every week too after an inconsistent 2023 season. Although he won one individual title and two team trophies, he didn’t meet his own expectations and decided to ramp up his efforts coming into 2024.
“This year I’ve got a little more drive and determination because I don’t enjoy not playing well,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s win Saturday was the 31st in his professional career – and he was able to celebrate with plenty of family members in attendance – including his famous father-in-law, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky.
Obviously, I had my wife Paulina here and then mother, father-in-law, my dad was here, and obviously my brother is on the bag,” Johnson said. “So, it’s always great when you have a bunch of friends and family around and you win.
“It doesn’t seem like it happens that often, though, when you win when everyone is there. It was nice to get to enjoy that with them today, and hopefully we’ll enjoy it a lot more.”
“I figured if he birdied 17, it was pretty much his, but if he didn’t, I felt like I had a chance for a playoff,” said Uihlein. “He’s a stud for a reason.”