Dustin Johnson had a few practice days to get acquainted with Real Club Valderrama. Jason Kokrak, meanwhile, had travel and luggage issues and was unable to take a single swing until Friday’s opening round of LIV Golf Andalucía.
Yet both players produced the same score in challenging conditions on one of Europe’s top courses, each shooting 4-under 67 to share the lead by one shot over Anirban Lahiri. Cameron Smith, Kevin Na and Individual Champion point leader Talor Gooch are tied for fourth at 2 under.
Lahiri’s Crushers GC top the team leaderboard at 4 under, the same score as the individual leaders – evidence of how difficult Valderrama played, especially with winds nearing 20 mph. Just 14 of the 48 players in the field managed to shoot under par on Friday.
“The course is really difficult,” said Johnson, the 4Aces GC captain who is looking for his second individual victory this season. “The wind obviously, especially for the first 15 holes, was blowing really hard. The greens definitely started to firm up towards the end of the round.
“No matter if the wind is blowing or not, this course plays tough just because you have to be so precise on every single shot. That’s why I think the golf course is so great, and it’s a lot of fun to play.”
It was even fun for Kokrak, despite travel issues that included flight cancellations and missed connections which delayed his arrival until early Wednesday morning. His golf clubs were delayed even more, not arriving until 5 p.m. Thursday.
Kokrak arrived early on Friday morning to walk the back nine, added a half-hour to his normal warmup routine, and then bounced back from an early bogey with three straight birdies. He finished with six birdies, tying for most in the field.
“Kind of a crazy situation,” Kokrak said. “… I left home striking it nice, playing well, and really pleased with the clubs I have in my bag. I was confident when I got my clubs as long as they weren’t broken or bent.”
Johnson and Kokrak are among the many players in the field getting their first taste of Valderrama’s challenging layout. Even the players who have a history with the course were worn out after the round – including three-time Valderrama winner Sergio Garcia, the Spanish star who’s the unofficial host for this week.
Garcia was happy with his 1-under 70 that left him tied for seventh.
“It was a grind. I’m not going to lie,” said the Fireballs GC captain, who has 14 top 10s in 15 previous starts at Valderrama. “Obviously, it was tough. The course was playing firm. It’s probably the hardest wind that we play here, that Poniente wind coming from the west. … I’m happy about shooting under par in these conditions and without playing amazingly. It was a positive day.”
TEAM COUNTING SCORES
Here are the standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Andalucía. 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 win the team title.
1. CRUSHERS GC (-4): Anirban Lahiri 68, Bryson DeChambeau 70, Paul Casey 71
2. RIPPER GC (-3): Cameron Smith 69, Marc Leishman 70, Matt Jones 71
3. MAJESTICKS GC (-2): Ian Poulter 70, Henrik Stenson 70, Laurie Canter 71
4. TORQUE GC (-1): Joaquin Niemann 70, Sebastián Muñoz 70, Mito Pereira 71
T5. 4ACES GC (E): Dustin Johnson 67, Patrick Reed 71, Peter Uihlein 75
T5. SMASH GC (E): Jason Kokrak 67, Brooks Koepka 71, Chase Koepka 75
T7. RANGEGOATS GC (+1): Talor Gooch 69, Bubba Watson 72, Thomas Pieters 73
T7. CLEEKS GC (+1): Richard Bland 70, Graeme McDowell 71, Bernd Wiesberger 73
T9. FIREBALLS GC (+2): Sergio Garcia 70, Abraham Ancer 72, Carlos Ortiz 73
T9. STINGER GC (+2): Dean Burmester 70, Charl Schwartzel 71, Louis Oosthuizen 74
T11. HYFLYERS GC (+5): Cameron Tringale 71, Phil Mickelson 73, Brendan Steele 74
T11. IRON HEADS GC (+5): Kevin Na 69, Danny Lee 72, Scott Vincent 77