American Talor Gooch clung on to score a three stroke victory Sunday at LIV Golf’s maiden stop in Australia as Chase Koepka sparked wild scenes with a hole-in-one to culminate the rebel tour’s most successful event to date.
Gooch, who has won once on the PGA Tour, at the RSM Classic last year, hit back-to-back 62s to open up a huge 10-stroke lead heading into the final round at The Grange Golf Club in Adelaide.
But he nearly blew it with bogeys at seven and eight followed by a double bogey on 10, reducing his lead to just two from India’s Anirban Lahiri.
He held his nerve to birdie the 11th and 13th, claiming not only the title but a whopping $4 million at the 54-hole, no-cut tournament, the third stop on the circuit’s 14-event schedule.
Lahiri came second ahead of four players tied for third four shots adrift, including Patrick Reed and British Open champion Cameron Smith.
Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, joint runners up to Spain’s Jon Rahm at the Masters this month, ended seven off the pace.
“Winning on any tour is hard, winning on this type of golf course in front of this type of crowd is not easy,” said Gooch, who had huge crowds more reminiscent of a major accompanying him on his walk to the 18th.
“There was a couple of moments where it got shaky, but you knew that was going to happen. You can’t go three days on this type of golf course and not make mistakes.”
Koepka had a day to remember with an ace at the so-called “watering hole” — the rowdy par-three 12th — celebrating with animated chest bumps as the crowd erupted and rained beer down on him.
– Wild –
“I smelled like beer the whole entire rest of the day. Yeah, it was wild,” said Koepka.
“Crazy experience. I mean, obviously to do it on a hole like that was super special.
“The next couple hours I was out there, I was just getting ovation after ovation every time I walked up to every shot, every tee box. It was pretty cool.”
While the Saudi-backed 54-hole, no-cut tour has faced resistance from traditionalists and human rights activists, struggling to crack the United States market, in particular, the fervour in Australia was undeniable.
Campaigners accuse Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing” — using sport to deflect from its rights record, including the murder and dismembering of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate in 2018.
But in a country starved of top quality golf, it was a sell-out, with some 75,000 people watching the action over three days, with bars, pumping music and even a tattoo parlour keeping them amused.
Adelaide is locked in to host a LIV event for at least another four years, with players this week voicing support for another one in Australia next year.
“This is really an example of what is possible and a new opportunity to present golf in a different way and have a different energy and a different feel,” said Mickelson, who was reportedly paid among the biggest signing fees to jump ship from the US PGA Tour.
The circuit was launched last year offering record purses of $25 million, enticing a slew of major winners and other high profile golfers, but has bitterly divided the golfing world.