SUGAR GROVE, Ill. (LIV Golf) — Ripper GC’s Jediah Morgan, fighting to retain his spot in the LIV Golf League for next season, opened with a 5-under 66 to share the first-round lead Friday at LIV Golf Chicago.
Morgan is tied with Fireballs GC Captain Sergio Garcia, Stinger GC Captain Louis Oosthuizen, Crusher GC’s Anirban Lahiri, and Torque GC’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 GC), Dustin Johnson (4Aces GC), 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, which has finished third in each of the last three tournaments, tops 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 4Aces, 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 weren’t a couple of 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.”
TEAM COUNTING SCORES
Here are the standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Chicago. 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. STINGER GC (-13): Louis Oosthuizen 66, Charl Schwartzel 67, Dean Burmester 67
T2. FIREBALLS GC (-12): Sergio Garcia 66, Carlos Ortiz 67, Eugenio Chacarra 68
T2. CRUSHERS GC (-12): Anirban Lahiri 66, Charles Howell III 67, Bryson DeChambeau 68
4. RIPPER GC (-11): Jediah Morgan 66, Marc Leishman 67, Cameron Smith 69
T5. 4ACES GC (-10): Patrick Reed 67, Peter Uihlein 68, Dustin Johnson 68
T5. TORQUE GC (-10): Sebastián Muñoz 66, Joaquin Niemann 67, David Puig 70
T5. SMASH GC (-10): Jason Kokrak 67, Brooks Koepka 68, Matthew Wolff 68
8. RANGEGOATS GC (-9): Thomas Pieters 67, Talor Gooch 68, Bubba Watson 69
9. MAJESTICKS GC (-6): Sam Horsfield 69, Ian Poulter 69, Lee Westwood 69
10. IRON HEADS GC (-3): Scott Vincent 67, Kevin Na 70, Danny Lee 73
11. HYFLYERS GC (-2): Cameron Tringale 68, Brendan Steele 69, James Piot 74
12. CLEEKS GC (-1): Graeme McDowell 70, Richard Bland 71, Bernd Wiesberger 71
POINTS LEADER SMITH SHOOTS 69 – Ripper GC Captain Cameron Smith opened with a 2-under 69 and is tied for 25th as he seeks to clinch the Individual Champion points race this week.
Smith has not played since winning in Bedminster last month, his second individual win in his last three LIV starts. “Guess a little bit of rust in the game,” Smith said. “I’ll spend some time on the range and sort myself out.”
If Smith wins this week and closest pursuer Talor Gooch finishes fourth or lower, Smith could clinch the season-long title with one event still left in the regular season at Jeddah. Smith is currently 21 points ahead of Gooch, who is tied for 16th after shooting a 68.
PARTY HOLE LEADERS – For the second time this season, a LIV Golf tournament featured a stadium-type par-3 party hole, with the 160-yard 17th at Rich Harvest Farms providing fans with a festive atmosphere, similar to the Watering Hole earlier this season at LIV Golf Adelaide.
“I thought it was another cool experience,” said Fireballs GC Captain Sergio Garcia. “The people were having a lot of fun, but at the same time they were quite respectful, so it was nice to see.”
Just eight birdies were recorded at the 17th on Friday against six bogeys for a stroke average of 2.958, making it the sixth most difficult hole in the first round.
LAHIRI CONTINUES GOOD FORM – Anirban Lahiri finished second at LIV Golf Bedminster last month and followed with a third-place finish at International Series England on the Asian Tour. He knows he’s in good form but is hoping it eventually pays off in a tournament victory.
“There’s been some good results, but the win has been a bit elusive,” Lahiri said. “… Obviously I’m doing some good things because I’m playing good golf. That’s all that matters. Results will take care of themselves as long as I do the right thing.”
NEW SCORECARD SIGNING PROCESS – LIV Golf unveiled a new post-round scorecard signing procedure that reduces the amount of time required by players to make their rounds official. Instead of returning to a scoring tent after their rounds, players now sign their cards immediately upon completion of play on their finishing holes.
“This will improve the speed and turnaround for scoring a round,” said David Benne, LIV Golf’s Senior Vice President of Competition Management in Events. “We’ve been doing it on 18 all year long and sometimes a few other holes, so several players have experienced it and have been receptive.”
The players are supportive of the new procedure.
“I think it’s cool,” said HyFlyers GC’s Cameron Tringale. “With the format and the shotgun, you’re finished. You’re officially done sooner without the drive back to scoring. You can get to practice, get on with your night, treatment – whatever you need to do. I just think it solidifies everything sooner, which is good.”
HORSFIELD SHOOTS 69 IN RETURN – Sam Horsfield opened with a 2-under 69 in his return to the Majesticks GC lineup after missing the last seven tournaments following hip surgery. Horsfield and his teammates – co-captains Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, and Henrik Stenson – each shot the same score Friday.
PREFERRED LIES – Due to moist conditions after persistent rain throughout the week, preferred lies were allowed in Friday’s first round via Model Local Rule E-3.
AWARENESS RIBBONS – Two different ribbons are being worn this week by players and caddies. Red/Black ribbons represent Sepsis Awareness Month and were handed out by Ripper GC in honor of Marc Leishman’s wife Audrey, a sepsis survivor. Blue ribbons represent HLH Awareness Month and were handed out by Smash GC in memory of staff member Taylor Stern’s father, who passed away from the disease last year.
RD. 1 STAT LEADERS
Driving distance – Dean Burmester, 323.8-yard average
Longest drive – Bryson DeChambeau, 337.7 yards (10th hole)
Driving accuracy – Cameron Tringale, Bernd Wiesberger, 93% (13 of 14)
Greens in regulation – Joaquin Niemann, Scott Vincent, 89% (16 of 18)
Scrambling – Ian Poulter (7 of 7), Charles Howell III (6 of 6), Thomas Pieters (4 of 4), Cameron Tringale (4 of 4), Henrik Stenson (3 of 3), Louis Oosthuizen (3 of 3), Abraham Ancer (3 of 3), Peter Uihlein (3 of 3), Patrick Reed (3 of 3), 100%
Fewest putts – Matthew Wolff, 25 putts
Most birdies – Jediah Morgan, Marc Leishman, Joaquin Niemann, Matthew Wolff, 7
Bogey-free rounds – Louis Oosthuizen (66), Patrick Reed (67), Thomas Pieters (67), Charles Howell III (67), Peter Uihlein (68), Cameron Tringale (68)