On his way to grabbing a share of the first-round lead Friday at the LIV Golf Invitational Boston, Matthew Wolff also made history, as he became the first golfer to make a hole-in-one at a LIV Golf event.
Wolff’s ace at the 178-yard No. 2 was the highlight of his 7-under 63, which made him the co-leader with Talor Gooch on an eventful day at The International’s Oaks Course. Tied for third are LIV Golf newcomers Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann with 64s. Five players – including another newcomer, Anirban Lahiri – share fifth at 66.
“Being the first one to do anything is always special, but I know for a fact I’m not going to be the last,” said Wolff, who was runner-up at the previous LIV Golf event at Bedminster. “There’s going to be people that have aces and stuff. The ace was great. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled … but I’d rather be holding that trophy at the end of the week.”
Thanks to Wolff and a solid 4-under 66 by teammate Bernd Wiesberger, the Hy Flyers GC captained by Phil Mickelson are at 11 under and have a one-shot lead over 4 Aces GC, winner of the last two team trophies by a cumulative 15 strokes.
Gooch, joined by captain Dustin Johnson’s 67 as the official counting rounds for 4 Aces GC – teammate Pat Perez also shot a 67 – knows the team competition has improved with the new additions and that a three-peat will not be easy to achieve this week.
“I feel like the Aces kind of have a target on our backs right now, which is good,” Gooch said. “It’s three rounds. Pat came in and had a good round today, so hopefully we can kind of get back on top the next couple days.”
Individually, Gooch has finished inside the top 10 in each of the first three events, and kept the momentum going with a round that started with seven birdies in his first 11 holes. He played the final seven holes at even par.
“When you get it going that early, you start thinking, all right, let’s put the foot on the gas and go,” Gooch said. “… When you get off to a hot start, you start thinking let’s take this as deep as we can. Unfortunately we didn’t get too deep today, but it was still a good day.”
Smith (world No. 2) and Niemann (world No. 19) entered LIV Golf Boston as the top-ranked players in the field. They didn’t disappoint in making their presence felt immediately. Both players also enjoyed the vibe in their new surroundings.
“I feel like the crowd out there is almost on top of you with the music,” Smith said. “It feels like the course has a bit of a heartbeat. Yeah, it was very different I would say, but something that I really enjoyed, and I can’t wait for this to keep going onwards and upwards.”
Said Niemann: “It was so much fun. I was talking the whole round with Talor how nice it is to have a competitive golf round where you’re really into it and you hit a bad shot or a good shot when you’re walking and hear the music and have a different mood. I was surprised how young the whole crowd was. Yeah, it was a lot of electric atmosphere.”
CAM SMITH’S FIRST LIV ROUND: A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING
World No. 2 Cameron Smith’s debut as a LIV Golf member included two eagles, a chip-in birdie, a double-bogey, and a miracle par that involved damaging his gap wedge.
In the end, his 6-under 64 was a showcase of how a world-class player makes the most on a day in which he wasn’t at his best.
“Yeah, that round kind of had a bit of everything, very up-and-down,” said Smith, the reigning Open champion. “… Probably wasn’t one of my best driving performances there. I was a bit disappointed with how I drove the ball, especially around here. I think I maybe got away with a few that I shouldn’t have. So something to work on tomorrow.”
The positives includes eagles at the par-5 8th and 18th holes when he reached the green in two. He also chipped in for birdie at the sixth hole when his approach shot ricocheted off the flagstick and the ball bounced off the green. That was one of five birdies in his round. And not surprising, he led the field with fewest putts (24).
He double-bogeyed the par-4 14th – the hardest hole on the day – after an errant tee shot and a poor third shot that finished behind the green. He bounced back with a birdie at the 15th, but found himself in trouble again at the 16th when his tee ball ended up next to a tree.
His only option was to play the shot left-handed, but that meant a stance on the cart path. So he was given relief, and his drop gave him enough space to hit the ball right-handed. He hit a hooded gap wedge that finished on the green, but in the process bent his clubhead against the tree trunk during his follow-through.
“Yeah, my gap wedge was a little bit worse for wear after that one,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do there, but yeah, that was just a cool shot. It’s one of those ones that you think you’re going to play, and a bit more often than not, it’s not going to turn out very well. And that one turned out pretty good.”
HOW THE NEW PLAYERS FARED IN ROUND 1
Six new LIV Golf members made their debuts on Friday at The International. Four ended the day inside the top 10 of the leaderboard. Here’s a quick look at each newcomer:
CAMERON SMITH (T-3, 64) – Despite an off-day with the driver, he produced two eagles and a brilliant approach shot to save par at the 16th hole.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN (T-3, 64) – A very solid day, with seven birdies against one bogey. The highlight was a stretch of four consecutive birdies on the front nine.
ANIRBAN LAHIRI (T-5, 66) – Looked quite comfortable in his debut, recording a bogey-free round.
HAROLD VARNER III (T-10, 67) – Suffered a bogey on his second hole of the day but battled back with bogey-free golf the rest of the round.
MARC LEISHMAN (T-31, 70) – Could never gain any traction, twice making bogeys after birdieing the previous hole.
CAMERON TRINGALE (T-37, 71) – The front nine at The International was productive (2 under). The back nine was not as kind (3 over).
Henrik Stenson made it to the range Friday before his round but was unable to hit a shot. Suffering from vertigo, Stenson – who won at Bedminster in his LIV Golf debut – was forced to withdraw.
His place in the field, and on the Majesticks GC lineup, was taken by reserve LIV golfer Shergo Al Kurdi, the English-born Jordanian who will celebrate his 19th birthday on Monday.
Not only did Kurdi have just 45 minutes notice to get mentally prepared, he also took Stenson’s spot in a threesome that included world No. 2 Cameron Smith and former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. And he took Stenson’s honors off the first tee, striping his drive in front of the largest gallery on the course.
“Definitely nerve-wracking,” Kurdi said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. But just a great experience.”
Kurdi has been on reserve for the first three LIV events, but Stenson’s WD was the first one of the Series. Until he got the call, Kurdi figured it was just another week of practice.
“I didn’t think anyone would pull out,” he said. “But Henrik wasn’t feeling grand on the range. It’s not a nice way to get into the tournament but it is what it is.”
Despite the pressure, Kurdi comported himself well. After a rollercoaster opening nine – three birdies, two bogeys and a double – he settled down and finished with a 1-over 71 and a tie for 37th.
PLAYERS CAN NOW WEAR SHORTS DURING COMPETITION
LIV Golf CEO and Commissioner Greg Norman announced after Friday’s first round that players can now wear shorts during all LIV Golf competition rounds, starting with Saturday’s second round at The International.
“The first league and tour to make it official,” Norman said in making the announcement.
LIV golfers have been allowed to wear shorts during practice days, much like other golf tours. But LIV Golf is the first elite tour to adopt the practice for tournament days.
In addition to the individual stroke-play competition, players are also competing as four-man teams during LIV Golf events. The best two scores in Round 1, the best two scores in Round 2, and the best three scores in Round 3 will combine to produce the team score.
The total team prize money for each event is $5 million, with the winning team dividing $3 million, second place dividing $1.5 million and third place dividing $500,000 among its four team members.
HERE is the leaderboard and Friday’s counting scores in the first round at The International: