On his way to grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the LIV Golf Invitational Boston, Matthew Wolff also made history, as he became the first golfer to make a hole-in-one at a LIV Golf event.
Wolff’s ace at the 178-yard second hole was the highlight of his 7-under 63, which made him the co-leader with Talor Gooch on an eventful day at The International’s Oaks Course. Tied for third are LIV Golf newcomers Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann with 64s. Five players – including another newcomer, Anirban Lahiri – share fifth at 66.
Cameron Smith sits one shot off the lead after an opening 64
“Being the first one to do anything is always special, but I know for a fact I’m not going to be the last,” said Wolff, who was runner-up at the previous LIV Golf event at Bedminster. “There’s going to be people that have aces and stuff. The ace was great. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled … but I’d rather be holding that trophy at the end of the week.”
Thanks to Wolff and a solid 4-under 66 by teammate Bernd Wiesberger, the Hy Flyers GC captained by Phil Mickelson are at 11 under and have a one-shot lead over 4 Aces GC, winner of the last two team trophies by a cumulative 15 strokes.
Gooch, joined by captain Dustin Johnson’s 67 as the official counting rounds for 4 Aces GC – teammate Pat Perez also shot a 67 – knows the team competition has improved with the new additions and that a ‘three-peat’ will not be easy to achieve this week. “I feel like the Aces kind of have a target on our backs right now, which is good,” Gooch said. “It’s three rounds. Pat came in and had a good round today, so hopefully we can kind of get back on top the next couple days.”
Individually, Gooch has finished inside the top 10 in each of the first three events, and kept the momentum going with a round that started with seven birdies in his first 11 holes. He played the final seven holes at even par.
World No. 2 Cameron Smith’s debut as a LIV Golf member included two eagles, a chip-in birdie, a double-bogey, and a miracle par that involved damaging his gap wedge. In the end, his 6-under 64 was a showcase of how a world-class player makes the most on a day in which he wasn’t at his best.
“Yeah, that round kind of had a bit of everything, very up-and-down,” said Smith, the reigning Open champion. “… Probably wasn’t one of my best driving performances there. I was a bit disappointed with how I drove the ball, especially around here. I think I maybe got away with a few that I shouldn’t have. So something to work on tomorrow.”
Shergo Al Kurdi took his place in the line up after Henrik Stenson’s late withdrawal
The positives includes eagles at the par-5 8th and 18th holes when he reached the green in two. He also chipped in for birdie at the sixth hole when his approach shot ricocheted off the flagstick and the ball bounced off the green. That was one of five birdies in his round. And not surprising, he led the field with fewest putts (24). He double-bogeyed the par-4 14th – the hardest hole on the day – after an errant tee shot and a poor third shot that finished behind the green. He bounced back with a birdie at the 15th, but found himself in trouble again at the 16th when his tee ball ended up next to a tree.
His only option was to play the shot left-handed, but that meant a stance on the cart path. So he was given relief, and his drop gave him enough space to hit the ball right-handed. He hit a hooded gap wedge that finished on the green, but in the process bent his clubhead against the tree trunk during his follow-through.
“Yeah, my gap wedge was a little bit worse for wear after that one,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do there, but yeah, that was just a cool shot. It’s one of those ones that you think you’re going to play, and a bit more often than not, it’s not going to turn out very well. And that one turned out pretty good.”
Another story to come out of the first round was the late withdrawal of previous event winner Henrik Stenson, whose suffered a reoccurrence of the vertigo he has suffered for many years and was unable to compete. His place in the field was taken by reserve LIV golfer Shergo Al Kurdi, the 18-year-old English-born Jordanian who played for Surrey in his amateur days. Sponsored by Golf Saudi since February, he turned pro at the end of last year.
Kurdi has been on reserve for the first three LIV events, but Stenson’s WD was the first one of the Series. With just 45 minutes notice to get mentally prepared, he also took Stenson’s spot in a threesome that included Cameron Smith and Dustin Johnson, and he took the honour off the first tee, striping his drive in front of the largest gallery on the course.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking, but it was just a great experience,” Kurdi said. “I didn’t think anyone would pull out, but Henrik wasn’t feeling great on the range. It’s not a nice way to get into the tournament, but it is what it is.”
Despite the pressure, Kurdi carried himself well. After a rollercoaster opening nine – three birdies, two bogeys and a double – he settled down and finished with a 1-over 71 and a tie for 37th.
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