Niemann and the Stingers enter Sunday’s final round of LIV Golf Jeddah

Sports Monday 04/March/2024 15:30 PM
By: Times News Service
Niemann and the Stingers enter Sunday’s final round of LIV Golf Jeddah

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia – Torque GC Captain Joaquin Niemann remains red-hot. Captain Louis Oosthuizen and his South African Stinger GC team are just glad it’s hot.

 As a result, Niemann and the Stingers enter Sunday’s final round of LIV Golf Jeddah atop their respective leaderboards.

 Niemann shot a 6-under 64 on Saturday to move to 13 under through the first two days at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club. That gives the 25-year-old Chilean a two-stroke lead over Stinger veteran Charl Schwartzel. Oosthuizen is tied for third with Smash GC’s Jason Kokrak, who had the low score on Saturday with a 62.

 Niemann is seeking his third win in his last six worldwide starts. He won the 2024 LIV Golf League season-opener in a playoff against Sergio Garcia and also won the Australian Open last December. During that stretch, he also shot a 59 and secured spots in two majors (the Masters and the Open).

 Niemann hopes to continue riding the momentum.

 “I know there’s a lot of golf to play tomorrow,” Niemann said. “There’s a lot of shots that I’ve got to hit tomorrow, and I’ve got to be confident doing those.”

 Charl Schwartzel of Stinger GC sits in solo second heading into the final round of LIV Golf Jeddah.(Photo by Chris Trotman/LIV Golf)

 The Stingers, meanwhile, suffered a rare misstep in the previous LIV Golf tournament at chilly Las Vegas, finishing in 12th place at 5 over, 38 shots behind the winning Smash GC. Oosthuizen said his team quickly put the result behind them.

 “I don't think we four guys perform well when it's that cold,” he said of the Vegas temperatures, which hovered in the low 50s F during the week. “We were talking about it. It's quite a different feeling making a golf swing with everything on in my golf bag. I think we sort of forgot about Vegas pretty quickly.”

 Perhaps the coldest member of the lineup was Schwartzel, who shot a final-round 80, his highest score in any LIV tournament. He’s bounced back with rounds of 63-66 this week. Like the rest of the team, he appreciates Saudi Arabia’s warmer climate along the Red Sea.

 “I’ve got a memory like a goldfish. What happened in Vegas?” laughed Schwartzel, who’s leading the field in putting average through the first two rounds. “Vegas is one to forget for me. … The weather was too cold for us. We’re in much better spirits now.”

 Kokrak was in the best spirits Sunday after a sizzling 62 moved him into contention. A nine-hole stretch that included seven birdies left him with an outside chance of 59 going into the final two holes.

 The first two LIV Golf Jeddah tournaments have been won by his captain, Brooks Koepka. Kokrak would love to follow with his first individual win and see Smash reel in the Stingers for their second consecutive victory.

 “Obviously to get my first victory with LIV would be amazing,” Kokrak said. “But another team victory to move forward would be awesome. … Brooks brought this team together to win a lot of team events, and I think you’ll see the four of us at the top of the leaderboard quite a bit.”

 Jason Kokrak of Smash GC shot an 8-under 62 on Saturday to move to tied third at LIV Golf Jeddah. (Photo by Matthew Harris/LIV Golf)

Team Counting Scores

 Standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Jeddah. The three best scores from each team count in the first two rounds while all four scores count in the final round. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.

 1. STINGER GC -29 (Grace 65, Oosthuizen 66, Schwartzel 66; Rd. 2 score: -13)

 T2. SMASH GC -22 (Kokrak 62, Koepka 66, Gooch 68; Rd. 2 score: -14)

 T2. LEGION XIII -22 (Vincent 67, Hatton 69, Rahm 69; Rd. 2 score: -5)

 4. TORQUE GC -20 (Niemann 64, Muñoz 68, Pereira 69; Rd. 2 score: -9)

 5. HYFLYERS GC -19 (Tringale 66, Mickelson 68, Ogletree 69; Rd. 2 score: -7)

 T6. RIPPER GC -18 (Herbert 66, Jones 66, Leishman. 66; Rd. 2 score: -12)

 T6. CRUSHERS GC -18 (Lahiri 67, Casey 68, Howell III 69; Rd. 2 score: -6)

 T8. FIREBALLS GC -17 (Ancer 63, Puig 68, Chacarra 69; Rd. 2 score: -10)

 T8. IRON HEADS GC -17 (Na 66, Lee 69, Kozuma 70; Rd. 2 score: -5)

 10. CLEEKS GC -14 (Bland 69, Meronk 69, Samooja 69; Rd. 2 score: -3)

 11. 4ACES GC -13 (Varner III 69, Perez 69, Reed 70; Rd. 2 score: -2)

 12. RANGEGOATS GC -9 (Watson 66, Pieters 67, Uihlein 71; Rd. 2 score: -6)

 13. MAJESTICKS GC -6 (Stenson 69, Westwood 70, Horsfield 70; Rd. 2 score: -1)


 KIM FINISHES ON PAR STREAK: Wild Card player Anthony Kim, making his return to professional golf this week after a nearly 12-year retirement, found his footing after a rough start in Saturday’s second round.

 Kim finished his round with 11 consecutive pars to shoot his second-consecutive 6-over 76, leaving him at 12 under for the first two days.

 All of the scorecard damage Saturday came early in Kim’s round. He opened with two bogeys, a double bogey, then another bogey before making his lone birdie of the day at the par-4 first. He suffered another double bogey at the third hole, but then played even par golf the rest of the way – his best stretch at Royal Greens this week and an encouraging sign as he continues to shake off the rust.

 Putting remains the most productive part of his game. Kim needed just 27 putts Saturday, ranking him tied for 11th in the field.

 KOKRAK, ANCER SIZZLE TOGETHER: Jason Kokrak had the low round on Saturday with an 8-under 62 and a tie for third. One of his playing partners, Fireballs GC’s Abraham Ancer, was next-best with a 63 that leaves him tied for fifth at 9 under.

 During a seven-hole stretch between the par-4 17th to the par-4 fifth, the two combined for 12 birdies and 2 pars.

 “At one point, I think on 3, Abe's caddie said, "Just fill it up, boys." It was good,” Kokrak said. “I think we were definitely feeding off each other. He was making putts. I was making putts. Seemed to birdie a lot of same holes.”

 SIX PARS, THEN BOOM: Individual tournament leader Joaquin Niemann started Saturday with six consecutive pars before a birdie at the par-3 eighth. He remained bogey-free from there, adding five more birdies the rest of the way.

 “I felt really happy when I finished the round with how I was patient,” Niemann said. “… There could have been a few birdies before No. 8, but I kind of told myself that I know I can make birdie on every hole here. I just need to keep hitting my shots, and I don't need to lose any focus.”

 OOSTHUIZEN’S NEW LOOK: Stinger GC Captain Louis Oosthuizen usually sports a beard, but he’s been clean-shaven the last two weeks. Was he trying to change the team’s luck after a tough result in Las Vegas?

 Not the case.

 “I was just bored this morning,” he said, “so I pulled the shaver out.”

 BROOKS LURKING: Two-time defending LIV Golf Jeddah champion Brooks Koepka shot a 4-under 66 to move into a tie for 17th. He’s eight strokes off the lead in his attempt to become LIV Golf’s first three-peat winner.

 WOLFF WITHDRAWS: RangeGoats GC’s Matthew Wolff withdrew after three holes Saturday due to sickness. Reserve player Wade Ormsby will replace in the RangeGoats’ lineup for the final round.