LEISHMAN TAKES ONE-SHOT LEAD; RIPPERS IN TWO-WAY TIE AT THE TOP IN JEDDAH
KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia – Ripper GC enjoyed a rewarding day on the shores of the Red Sea as Marc Leishman seized a one-shot lead, Cameron Smith stayed in the hunt for the season-long individual title and the team ended the opening round of LIV Golf Jeddah presented by ROSHN in a two-tie at the top.
Australian Leishman, who has been in sizzling form with two podium finishes in his last four LIV Golf events, fired a sparkling 5-under 65 at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club to finish day one a stroke in front of 4Aces GC captain Dustin Johnson, RangeGoats GC's Harold Varner III and Smash GC captain Brooks Koepka.
The 39-year-old from Warrnambool in Victoria, a runner-up in his most recent start at LIV Golf Chicago, reeled off five birdies in a bogey-free display to set the early pace in the regular-season finale.
Leishman was very happy with his performance on a breezy day at Royal Greens where the wind strengthened in the late afternoon.
"It was pretty tough," said Leishman. "A fair bit of wind, and it was nice to be finding the middle of the club face. I played pretty well today and made a couple of good putts to go along with it. When the conditions are tough like they were today, it's nice to get a good score on the board. Hopefully I can keep it going for the rest of the weekend."
Next best for the all-Australian team was Matt Jones, who mixed four birdies with three bogeys for a 1-under 69 while team captain Smith, overall leader in the season-long individual points race, opened with an even 70.
Smith, who has won two of his last four LIV Golf starts, offset three birdies with three bogeys on what he described as "a bit of a rough day" but he remains on track for the season-long Individual Champion title that brings with it a substantial bonus of $18 million.
"It wasn't easy today," said Smith, who sank a 30-foot birdie putt from just off the green at the 15th to put the Rippers one ahead on the team leaderboard at that point. "It was very tricky to get your distances right. I hung in there alright; I just didn't have my best stuff."
The Individual Champion title will be awarded to the top-ranked player after the completion of LIV Golf Jeddah. Apart from the pacesetting Smith, only No. 2 Talor Gooch and No. 3 Bryson DeChambeau have a mathematical chance of winning the crown.
Although he sits five strokes off the pace heading into day two, Smith still has a tournament victory in his sights in Jeddah.
"Absolutely," he said. "I feel like we were scrapping it there the last six or seven holes and yet we're only five back. A very disappointing bogey on 17, one of the easiest holes on the course probably. That hurts a bit but we are still only five back and there's plenty of golf to be played."
The fourth member of Ripper GC, Jediah Morgan, came into this week needing a high finish in Jeddah to avoid relegation and he ended day one in a tie for 33rd after opening with a 71. Morgan is currently 46th in individual points and needs to finish 44th or better after the final event of the 2023 regular season if he is to retain his spot for next year.
The Rippers finally broke through with their first team victory in Bedminster in August, and they occupied seventh spot in the standings heading into Jeddah, having climbed one spot in Chicago.
Their collective form on day one at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club lifted them into a tie at the top of the team leaderboard with Crushers GC at 6-under, boosting their hopes for next week's Team Championship in Miami.
"Next week is a huge week for the team," said Leishman. "We got close there last year finishing second, and I know all the boys want to try and go one better than that. Obviously a big week this week, but next week is going to be hopefully another week of good golf and we can try and get a win on the board."