Ripper’s Jediah Morgan, fighting to retain his spot in the LIV Golf League for next season, opened with a five-under 66 to share the first-round lead on Friday at LIV Golf Chicago.
Morgan is tied with Fireballs captain Sergio Garcia, Stinger captain Louis Oosthuizen, Crushers’ Anirban Lahiri and Torque’s Sebastián Muñoz on a packed leaderboard in which 19 other players are within two shots of the lead. Among those pursuers are team captains Brooks Koepka (Smash), Dustin Johnson (4 Aces) and Bryson DeChambeau (Crushers), who each shot 68, and Joaquin Niemann (Torque), who shot 67.
While the four other co-leaders are assured of returning in 2024, the 23-year-old Morgan is one of four players currently in the Drop Zone who face relegation at the end of the season. He ranks 46th with just three points but a big result this week at Rich Harvest Farms could move him above the Drop Zone.
Non-captains ranked 45th or worse will be relegated but have a chance to play their way back in later this year at the promotion tournament.
“I know where I am and everyone keeps reminding me where I am, so it’s pretty hard to get away from it,” said Morgan, who posted the low round in the field on Sunday at the previous LIV Golf event in Bedminster last month. “So, there’s no point in me trying to act like it’s not there in my head. It’s obviously there.
“But I know if I play well enough, put myself in the position I think to make putts for birdie, then that’s really all you can do.”
The South African Stinger team, who have finished third in each of the last three tournaments, top the team leaderboard at 13-under, with Charl Schwartzel and Dean Burmester contributing 67s to support Oosthuizen’s score. A strong finish this week could wrap up one of the top four seeds that will receive a bye at the Team Championship in Miami.
“We’re playing well,” Oosthuizen said. “We help each other out to try and get into form, and especially now with Miami around the corner, we really want to give a good push to the end.”
The Crushers and Fireballs are one stroke back at 12-under, with the Rippers at 11-under. The top two teams in the season-long standings, No. 1 4 Aces and No. 2 Torque, share fifth place at 10-under.
The five-way individual tie is among the most after any LIV Golf first round. Soft conditions provided opportunities for low scores, a big difference from last year’s firm test won by Ripper GC Captain Cameron Smith, who shot 69 on Friday.
“With the conditions, the course is quite gettable,” Garcia said. “I’m actually surprised there wasn’t a couple lower scores today. I could have shot one of those, obviously.
“It still is the kind of course that you still have to hit the ball well to score. It’s a good mix, but if you strike the ball nicely, it feels like you can make a lot of birdies.”
Morgan made seven birdies on Friday, tied for the most in the field. Similar success this weekend could lead to a significant moment in his young career.
“Playing good is motivating me more than getting out of that position,” Morgan said. “Winning the tournament is more motivating than getting out of the bottom four. That’s what I want to do.”
Said his captain Smith: “I’m very proud of him; he’s a great player. This is what he should be doing every day.”