Charl Schwartzel and his Stinger GC teammate, Hennie du Plessis, own the top two spots on the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational London leaderboard after Thursday’s first round at Centurion Club.
Schwartzel shot a 5-under 65 on the par-70 course, blistering Centurion’s back nine in 6-under 30 to take the first-round lead. Du Plessis posted three birdies in a four-hole stretch early in his round to shoot 4-under 66 and is solo second.
Not only did the two South Africans set the first-round pace in the individual stroke-play competition, their combined efforts allowed Stinger GC to take a commanding 6-shot lead in the team competition
The 48 players were divided into four-man teams during Tuesday’s live draft. Stinger – a team captained by Louis Oosthuizen, who drafted all South Africans – is at 9 under. Hy Flyers GC and Crushers GC are the closest pursuers at 3 under.
“It was very interesting,” Schwartzel said of the team aspect. “At one stage I saw three of our teammates, including (du Plessis) and Branden Grace up at the top. You know, just a little bit of a different aspect to what we used to play. Now you’ve got individual and team.”
Schwartzel said on his 17th hole of his round (hole No. 1), he had a 5-foot putt for bogey and thought about the importance on the Stinger’s score.
“I knew my score was counting for the team,” he said. “I was more worried to make it for my team than I was worried for myself. Yeah, we were conscious of it and you could see the leaderboards.”
Du Plessis said he also was aware of how well Stinger GC was playing.
“You can see from the first hole, you can see what’s really going on,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this format. You can see what’s going on and it’s all happening at the same time, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Australian Scott Vincent (Smash GC) and Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai (Crushers GC) each shot 67, while South Africans Branden Grace (Stinger) and Justin Harding (Hy Flyers) shot 68.
Multiple major winners Phil Mickelson (Hy Flyers GC captain) and Dustin Johnson (4 Aces GC captain) were another stroke back at 69 along with England’s Sam Horsfield and Laurie Canter (both Majestics GC).
MICKELSON ENJOYS HIS RETURN TO COMPETITIVE GOLF
World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, a six-time major winner, appeared in his first competitive golf event since February.
Starting his round on hole No. 1, Mickelson played his first nine holes in 2 over before rallying on his back nine with three birdies in a four-hole stretch. He shot a 1-under 69, the best score for Hy Flyers GC, the team he captains.
“I really enjoyed today,” said the 51-year-old Mickelson. “It was fun for me to get back out playing. I struck the ball really well and didn’t putt very well. I really struggled with the putter … the first six, seven holes but I played really well and fought back after a double on 9 to shoot 1-under and get myself right in it on the first day.”
“With the short format it’s important to have that good first day,” Mickelson added. “It’s harder; you don’t have as many days to catch up, but I needed a good day. I’m playing well and I feel like having my first competitive round now being back after a few months, I feel like I’m ready to relax and put it together and let it happen and not force it and really have a good round tomorrow. I feel like I’m playing well, and the putter started to feel better the
second half of the round.”
Mickelson described the atmosphere at the Centurion Club as having “great energy.”
“It seemed awfully fun,” Mickelson said. “The people were terrific, and it was fun to hit some good shots and get in a competitive frame of mind again. I really enjoyed it.”
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 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 the counting scores for Thursday’s first round:
1. STINGER GC (-9) – Charl Schwartzel 65, Hennie du Plessis 66
T-2. HY FLYERS GC (-3) – Justin Harding 68, Phil Mickelson 69
T-2. CRUSHERS GC (-3) – Phachara Khongwatmai 67, Peter Uihlein 70
4. MAJESTICKS GC (-2) – Sam Horsfield 69, Laurie Canter 69
5. 4 ACES GC (-1) – Dustin Johnson 69, Oliver Bekker 70
6. SMASH GC (E) – Scott Vincent 67, Jinichiro Kozuma 73
T-7. TORQUE GC (+1) – Adrian Otaegui 70, Talor Gooch 71
T-7. IRON HEADS GC (+1) – Hideto Tanihara 70, Viraj Madappa 71
9. FIREBALLS GC (+2) – Sergio Garcia 71, James Piot 71
10. CLEEKS GC (+3) – Ian Snyman 71, Pablo Larrazabal 72
11. PUNCH GC (+4) – Wade Ormsby 71, Ryosuke Kinoshita 73
12. NIBLICKS GC (+7) – Oliver Fisher 73, Graeme McDowell 74
Sergio Garcia (71): “This is the type of golf course that you need to be focused on what you’re doing. It’s not an easy golf course. You have to drive the ball very, very well. It’s very tight. And you know, I missed — I just missed two drives, and I paid heavily for it.”
Average drive distance (drives recorded on hole Nos. 6 and 15) – Sergio
Garcia, 308.5 yards
Longest drive – Matt Jones, 321 yards, 15th hole
Greens in Regulation – Sergio Garcia, 16 of 18 greens (88.89%)
Scrambling – Adrian Otaegui, 7 of 7
Fewest putts – Branden Grace, 25
Eagles made – Hennie du Plessis (hole 13), Sam Horsfield (13), Viraj Madappa (13), Wade Ormsby (13), Peter Uihlein (13), Charl Schwartzel (18)
Easiest hole – 538-yard par-5 13th, which played to 35 under, with 5 eagles, 28 birdies, 13 pars, 1 bogey and 1 double bogey.
Hardest hole –492-yard par-4 9th, which played to 43 over, with 1 birdie, 13 pars, 25 bogeys, 8 double bogeys and 1 other. The only player to birdie the 9th was Adrian Otaegui.
Peter Uihlein made the first eagle of the LIV Golf era when he began his round by holing his bunker shot at the par-5 13th.
Scott Vincent recorded the most birdies of any player with 7. Charl Schwartzel, the 18-hole leader, had 6 (and one eagle).
15-year-old amateur Ratchanon Chantananuwat shot a 3-over 73, which left him tied for 24th. He birdied the par 5 13th and 15th holes.
Chase Koepka, younger brother of multiple major winner Brooks Koepka, shot even-par 70 and is tied for 11th.
Veteran England golfers Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter each shot 75. The other four golfers from Great Britain in the field are Sam Horsfield (69), Laurie Canter (69), Richard Bland (73) and Oliver Fisher (73).
Kevin Yuan, the last player selected in Tuesday’s live draft, shot 73 for 4 Aces GC. Bernd Wiesberger, the first player selected in the draft, shot 77 for Niblicks GC.
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