Cameron Smith was frustrated after finishing 35th last week in Greenbrier, his worst result of the LIV Golf League season. He didn’t feel good about his putter, or about the distance control with his wedges, normally two of his strengths. “A weird week,” he called it.
There was nothing weird about his play in Friday’s first round at LIV Golf Bedminster. Dialled in on a tough, challenging course, the Ripper captain opened with a five-under 66 to grab a one-stroke lead over Charles Howell III at Trump National Bedminster.
“A little bit different to last week, which was the goal — especially today,” said Smith, seeking his second individual win of the season after last month’s victory in London.
The Australian star wasn’t the only one having a bounce-back moment.
Charles Howell III of Crushers shot a 67 on day one of LIV Golf Bedminster. Team leaders 4 Aces suffered thier worst-ever team result, a last-place finish in Greenbrier. But with Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed shooting twin three-under 68s on Friday to share third place on the individual leaderboard, the Aces are tied for second with Stinger, one shot behind the Rippers.
“Definitely shocked, of course,” Reed said about last week. “Our team is way better than finishing last in a golf tournament. But at the same time, you just kind of go to one of those golf courses that doesn’t really fit your eye. If it happens not to fit a couple other guys on the team’s eye, either, you can just kind of get in one of those funks.”
With just three tournaments left in the regular season, a poor result can be costly in both the individual and team races. With Torque winning in Greenbrier, the 4 Aces’ lead was reduced to seven points.
But after a hot start by the Aces on Friday, and Torque back in the pack in 10th place, it’s an opportunity for the Aces to rebuild their lead and create some separation from the closest chasers. They won at Bedminster last year during a stretch of four consecutive victories.
“Obviously coming in here, it’s a really good golf course, tough golf course. I think our team plays better on courses like this,” said 4 Aces captain Dustin Johnson. “We want to have a good week, and obviously we need to extend our lead a little bit.”
Smith is in his own race for the season-long Individual Champion title. He entered this week in second place, 15 points behind three-time tournament winner Talor Gooch, who is tied for 15th after the first round after shooting an even-par 71.
Trying to chase down Gooch, who has won three times this season, was one of the reasons Smith put in extra work on the range and practice greens this week.
“That was part of the reason for the work … to be the best at the end of the season. That’s what you want to be,” Smith said. “Sure, you want to win tournaments, but I think proving it over 13 tournaments is much better than one.”
TEAM COUNTING SCORES
Here are the standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Bedminster. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.
1. RIPPER (-4): Cameron Smith 66, Marc Leishman 71, Jediah Morgan 72
T2. STINGER (-3): Dean Burmester 69, Branden Grace 70, Charl Schwartzel 71
T2. 4 ACES (-3): Dustin Johnson 68, Patrick Reed 68, Peter Uihlein 74
T4. HYFLYERS (-2): Phil Mickelson 70, Cameron Tringale 70, Brendan Steele 71
T4. RANGEGOATS (-2): Bubba Watson 69, Harold Varner III 71, Talor Gooch 71
6. CRUSHERS (-1): Charles Howell III 67, Paul Casey 72, Bryson DeChambeau 73
7. FIREBALLS (E): Abraham Ancer 69, Carlos Ortiz 70, Sergio Garcia 74
T8. SMASH (+1): Jason Kokrak 69, Brooks Koepka 72, Matthew Wolff 73
T8. CLEEKS (+1): Bernd Wiesberger 69, Graeme McDowell 72, Richard Bland 73
10. TORQUE (+3): Joaquin Niemann 70, Sebastian Munoz 73, Mito Pereira 73
11. IRON HEADS (+4): Kevin Na 71, Sihwan Kim 72, Scott Vincent 74
12. MAJESTICKS (+7): Henrik Stenson 71, Laurie Canter 74, Lee Westwood 75