Oct 7th, 2022
Grace, Bland and Chacarra share lead in Bangkok
Trio go low to lead LIV Golf event by one
Photography: LIV Golf
He took the first big step Friday at LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok.
The South African, the winner in Portland earlier this season, shot a seven-under 65 at Stonehill to grab a share of the first-round lead with England’s Richard Bland and Spain’s Eugenio Chacarra. Meanwhile, Johnson is in a tie for 21st after shooting a 70, prompting him to head to the range post-round.
The 4 Aces GC captain, who has a 39-point lead over Grace in the individual standings, can wrap up the title and the $18 million prize by winning in Bangkok. But Grace would rather take care of business this week and make things interesting in the final regular-season event in Jeddah. With 40 points to the winner, Grace could theoretically move ahead of Johnson with a victory this week, provided Johnson does not finish in the top 24.
“I’m just trying to win a golf tournament,” said Grace, a member of the all-South African Stinger GC. “If I can do that, if I can keep my mind toward that, then the rest will happen. I’m just fortunate to be in a good position coming into this week, lying second and playing well and feeling good about the game. I just need to come out here and hit the shots and make the most of it.”
Bland and Chacarra are at opposite ends of the spectrum regarding their professional experience, but they now share the same goal – build on their first-round 65s and give the top of the leaderboard some new names this weekend. That goes for the individual and team competition, as Chacarra’s Fireballs GC leads the team standings at fourteen-under, followed by Bland’s Cleeks GC at thirteen-under.
Iron Heads GC, which includes Thai golfers Sadom Kaewkanjana and Phachara Khongwatmai, are in solo third at eleven-under. Four teams are another stroke back, while 4 Aces GC – winners of four consecutive events – are in unfamiliar territory at 10th.
The 49-year-old Bland, whose first win on a major tour came in his 478th career start, is not known for his length. But on a course that measures 7,815 yards and was expected to favour the bombers, he shot a bogey-free round while finishing with three birdies in his last four holes.
“They put a few of the tees up, and a couple of the stronger par 4s played downwind, which was favourable for me because I’m not one of the long hitters,” said Bland, whose best result in his first five LIV Golf starts was 17th in London. “You couldn’t design a better course for Bryson [DeChambeau], really.
“But we’re all good players. And obviously, because the fairways are so wide, once you’ve got irons in your hands and the greens are quite soft, guys are going to shoot good scores, no matter where you are.”
At 22 years old, Chacarra is the youngest player in this week’s field. He was the world’s No. 2 amateur before turning pro earlier this year to become a LIV Golf member. He’s still looking for his first top 20 finish, although his Fireballs GC has finished in the money twice since he joined captain Sergio Garcia’s team.
“I’m living the dream,” Chacarra said. “I’m playing with Sergio’s team. He’s my hero since I was little, and then I got Abraham [Ancer] and Carlo [Ortiz] that are really good friends, and they are helping me as much as they can every week.
“I didn’t play very good the first four weeks and I didn’t help much, so I like helping them and giving them the trust they put on me to be on their team.”
Marc Leishman (Punch GC) and Ian Poulter (Majesticks GC) are tied for fourth, one stroke off the lead after shooting 66. The five-way tie for sixth includes Smash GC captain Brooks Koepka, Niblicks GC’s Harold Varner III, Torque GC’s Jediah Morgan and two members of Iron Heads GC – Sihwan Kim and captain Kevin Na.
Punch GC captain Cameron Smith, the most recent LIV Golf winner, shot an even-par 72 and is tied for 41st.
In addition to the individual stroke-play competition, players are also competing as four-man teams during LIV Golf events. Starting with LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok, the best three scores in Round 1, the best three scores in Round 2, and the best three scores in Round 3 will combine to produce the team score. The previous counting-score format was 2-2-3.
“I think 3-3-3 is just better,” said Sihwan Kim, whose Iron Heads GC are in solo third after Friday. “Makes it more exciting for the teams.”
The total team prize money for each event is $5 million, with the winning team dividing $3 million, second place dividing $1.5 million and third place dividing $500,000 among its four team members.
In addition, teams are vying for seeds going into the Team Championship in Miami, the final event of the inaugural season, with a $50 million purse. Teams have received points for their finishes in each event, and the top four teams in the points standings after next week’s event in Jeddah receive day one byes in Miami.
1. Fireballs GC, 14 under (Eugenio Chacarra 6, Sergio Garcia 68, Abraham Ancer 69)
2. Cleeks GC, 13 under (Richard Bland 65, Graeme McDowell 68, Laurie Canter 70)
3. Iron Heads GC, 11 under (Kevin Na 67, Sihwan Kim 67, Phachara Khongwatmai 71)
T-4. Stinger GC, 10 under (Branden Grace 65, Charl Schwartzel 70, Shaun Norris, 71)
T-4 Niblicks GC, 10 under (Harold Varner III 67, James Piot 69, Hudson Swafford 70)
T-4. Majesticks GC, 10 under (Ian Poulter 66, Lee Westwood 69, Henrik Stenson 71)
T-4. Smash GC, 10 under (Brooks Koepka 67, Jason Kokrak 69, Peter Uihlein 70)
T-8. Torque GC, 9 under (Jediah Morgan 67, Scott Vincent 70, Hideto Tanihara 70)
T-8. Punch GC, 9 under (Marc Leishman 66, Wade Ormsby 70, Matt Jones 71)
10. 4 Aces GC, 8 under (Patrick Reed 68, Talor Gooch 70, Dustin Johnson 70)
11. Crushers GC, 7 under (Bryson DeChambeau 69, Charles Howell III 69, Paul Casey 71)
12. Hy Flyers GC, 4 under (Phil Mickelson 69, Cameron Tringale 70, Bernd Wiesberger 73)