LAS VEGAS PREVIEW: RIPPERS GC OFF TO SOLID START
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – An encouraging start to the year in Mexico for the Rippers has given the all-Australian combination a welcome boost and high hopes as they prepare for this week's LIV Golf Las Vegas in the Nevada desert.
Ripper GC captain Cameron Smith contended strongly for the individual title early on in the final round of the season-opening LIV Golf Mayakoba last week before tying for eighth while his team narrowly missed out on a podium spot by finishing fourth.
Matt Jones was the best performer for the Rippers in that final round. He eagled the par-5 fifth on the way to a 5-under 66 and 25th place at 1-under, finishing level with Marc Leishman, who signed off with a 70. Lucas Herbert, a three-times DP World Tour winner who joined Ripper GC just before the start of this season, returned a level-par 71 to share 21st spot at 2-under.
It was a solid all-round performance from the Rippers at Mayakoba, and certainly augurs well for the rest of the season as they look to improve on a 2023 campaign highlighted by a team win in Bedminster, a runner-up spot in London and five other top-seven finishes in 13 regular-season starts.
As the Rippers prepare for Thursday's opening round on a fairly tight and soft layout at Las Vegas Country Club, they would be wise to follow the successful team philosophy that Leishman preached multiple times last year - a caution against thinking too far ahead.
"We're all process guys, and we try not to get ahead of ourselves," he said. "When you start thinking about things, that's when things can go south. Cam's just trying to take care of his job, us lads are trying to take care of ours, and hopefully as a team we can have a really good week."
Leishman, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour whose only European Tour victory came at the 2015 Nedbank Golf Challenge, has relished the team environment ever since he first joined the LIV Golf League in August 2022.
"The team aspect has been probably one of the best parts about LIV Golf for me," said the 40-year-old from Warrnambool, Victoria. "It doesn't really change the dynamic on the golf course for me because we're all competitive - we want to win and we want to beat each other.
"But off the golf course ... it's been a lot of fun spending time with the lads and everyone else in our team as well. I've really enjoyed that, and I'm looking forward to doing it for hopefully a lot more years to come."
All four Ripper players finished in the top 25 last week in Mexico, yet another good sign of the team's early-season form and cohesiveness.
Smith, long regarded as one of the best putters in the game, tied for third in birdies at Mayakoba (with a total of 16) and ranked T6 in putting (with 78 putts). As for greens in regulation, Smith ended the week tied for 13th in that category (with 35).
Jones, the longest-tenured player on Ripper GC, also performed brilliantly on the greens and ranked joint third in the field (with 77 putts). However, two areas of concern for Jones in Mexico were off the tee and getting to the green: he ranked joint 50th in fairways hit and a lowly 53rd for greens in regulation.
Leishman and Herbert each finished in the top half of the field in most of the statistical categories. Leishman did best in fairways hit, ranking T14 (with 19), and Herbert's best statistic was greens in regulation, where he ended the week joint 23rd (with 32).
This week, the Rippers players will have to contend with a Las Vegas Country Club layout that has relatively narrow fairways and is very well bunkered in the landing areas. It will also play very soft, due to the heavy rain that has swept across the south-west of the United States over the past week.