For the first time in its young history, LIV Golf returns to a host course.
Centurion Club was the site of the inaugural Invitational Series tournament in 2022’s beta-test year. Now it’s back as the venue for LIV Golf London, the ninth event of the 2023 LIV Golf League season.
Many things have changed in the last 13 months between events. Of the 48 players in last year’s field, just 23 will tee it up this season. That includes individual winner Charl Schwartzel and third-place finisher Branden Grace, two of the three members of Stinger GC that swept the individual podium and – obviously – LIV Golf’s first team title.
The par-71, 7,068-yard course yielded few low scores last year, as just nine of the 48 players finished at par or better last year, with Schwartzel winning at 9 under. It may very well be as difficult this year.
After getting a look at the course’s first 10 holes, Ripper GC Captain Cameron Smith said: “I think there’s a really, really good mix of extremely tough holes where you’re grinding to make par and then also some holes where you get a wedge in your hand and you’re looking at making birdie.
“As long as that theme continues, I think it’ll be a good test. I think those first four or five there in the trees are quite tough, and once you get through there, I think you’re looking at birdies the whole way in.”
With that in mind, here are the picks for our top five players and top four teams at this week’s LIV Golf London.
1. TALOR GOOCH. The season-long points leader and winner of the last three LIV Golf tournaments played outside the U.S. The RangeGoats GC star keeps making statements with each victory. He’s No. 1 until further notice.
2. BRYSON DECHAMBEAU. Came so close in Andalucía to ending his two-year drought. He just needs to tidy up a few things, but no doubt he’s trending in the right direction. Will be interesting to see how he navigates Centurion’s woodlands holes.
3. DUSTIN JOHNSON. His win in Tulsa is his only top 5 points finish of the season, but a return to Centurion should be a positive, having finished 8th here last season. Plus, the 4Aces GC captain is probably tired of seeing his former teammate at the top of the podium.
4. CAMERON SMITH. Like DeChambeau, he was not a LIV Golf member last year when the inaugural event was played, so he’s unfamiliar with Centurion Club. But the Ripper GC captain obviously knows how to win in the UK and will look for a good result going into his Open title defence.
5. BROOKS KOEPKA. His three LIV Golf podium finishes this season – including the win in Orlando – have come in warm weather. But it was chilly in Rochester, New York when he won the PGA Championship, so the Smash GC captain should be just fine.
OTHERS CONSIDERED: Branden Grace finished third in the Stingers’ individual podium sweep last season, and he’ll seek a bounce-back week after a non-points finish in Andalucía … Five Englishmen are in the field, and the best bet for a good result is Majesticks GC’s Laurie Canter, who played well in qualifying for the Open on Tuesday … If David Puig can as well in the first two rounds as he does on Sunday, he could give Torque GC its first individual champ … Smash’s Jason Kokrak has produced five straight top-12 finishes, the most recent one without a practice round.
1. TORQUE GC. Like Gooch with the Individual rankings, it would be foolish to pick against the only three-time team winners this year. But only Puig has seen Centurion Club.
2. CRUSHERS GC. None of the current Crushers were members of LIV Golf playing in London last year, but the course may be well-suited for its veteran ball-strikers.
3. 4ACES GC. Dustin Johnson’s teammates are completely different from the ones he drafted going into London last year. The Aces are at the top of the point standings for now, but their lead has been shrinking.
4. RANGEGOATS GC. Bubba Watson’s team comes into London with five consecutive podium finishes. Yet they’ve only managed to convert one of their four individual titles into a team trophy.
OTHERS CONSIDERED: Stinger GC won by 14 strokes last year; the South Africans may very well win again but duplicating the margin is a big ask … Majesticks GC co-captain Ian Poulter promises his team will finish on the podium at some point this season. Why not this week at their “home” event?