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LIV GOLF

Joaquin Niemann dominates in Jeddah, further justifying Masters invite; Anthony Kim ends return 33 shots behind

March 03, 2024
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Francois Nel

There were two golfers in the field at LIV Golf’s Jeddah event who would have generated global headlines had they won at Royal Greens Golf Club in Saudi Arabia. An Anthony Kim victory may have broken the Internet, while a Talor Gooch win would likely have broken the record for golf memes created in a seven-day span.

Joaquin Niemann didn’t break anything with his four-shot victory over South African duo Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel on Sunday, but he did justify the decision by Augusta National last week to extend the Chile native a special invitation to the April Masters.

Niemann had traveled more than 44,000 miles in the past 12 weeks in an effort to play tournaments that receive Official World Golf Ranking points, given his LIV Golf League does not. Niemann, who first played the Masters in 2018 courtesy of winning the Latin American Amateur Championship, traveled to Australia in December to play in two events, hoping to play well enough to jump 40 places into the world’s top 50 who were invited to the Masters on Dec. 31. He failed in that quest but won the Australian Open to get into the 152nd Open Championship given the Aussie Open was part of the R&A’s Open Qualifying Series.

The 25-year-old’s charge across the DP World Tour continued to the Middle East, where he tied for fourth at the Dubai Desert Classic, and the Asian Tour, where he placed third at the International Series Oman. His efforts to climb the OWGR were rewarded by Augusta National, who last week invited Niemann, as well as Thorbjorn Olesen and Ryo Hisatsune, to the Masters.

In Saudi Arabia, Niemann shot a final-round 66 to finish at 17 under par, with former Open champion Oosthuizen and 2011 Masters champion Schwartzel at 13 under. In fact, Niemann was the only player without a major victory on the top five finishers at LIV Golf Jeddah with Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm coming in at 12 under and 11 under, respectively.

When playing on tours that do receive OWGR points, Niemann has finished in the top five in his last four starts worldwide. He also won LIV’s season-opening event at Mayakoba in Mexico, meaning he has claimed two of first three LIV events of the 2024 season.

Asked if was he one of the favorites to win a major this year, Niemann, No. 72 on the OWGR, quipped about the World Ranking, tongue in cheek: “How is that possible; I’m like 100th in the world?”

Niemann then sidestepped hyperbole from LIV announcers suggesting he was the best player on the planet. “I’m more than happy about the way I’m playing, I’ve just got to keep doing the same practice and hitting it the same way,” he said.

Why has Niemann been playing so well? Judging by his last two holes in Saudi Arabia, it’s an impressive combination of driving and short game. Both will come in handy at the tricky tee shots and green surrounds at Augusta. Nursing a three-shot lead at Royal Greens with two to play, Niemann did not need to hit driver on Nos. 17 and 18. But he blasted it into the greenside rough on the short par 4, before a deft pitch shot to tap-in birdie range. On the par-5 home hole, Niemann again reached for the driver and pounded it down the fairway. After his second missed the green, Niemann putted from the fairway for another tap-in birdie.

“I carried it 340 on 17 and then same here [on 18],” Niemann said. “My driver is a lot longer and straighter. I’m really happy with the way I’m hitting it.”

Gooch tied for sixth at 10 under with several players including Phil Mickelson. The Oklahoma native and 2023 individual LIV champion was at the center of a controversy this week when he said that Rory McIlroy winning the Masters, and therefore the career Grand Slam, would have an asterisk “without some of the best players in the world.”

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Francois Nel

Meanwhile, Kim, the 38-year-old former PGA Tour star who had spent 12 years in injury hiatus and total obscurity, finished in last place at 16 over par, 33 shots back of Niemann. Kim’s scores of 76-76-74 at the par-70 Royal Greens course were not too dispiriting for a guy who last teed up at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.

“It was a rough week, but I’m excited to be playing professional golf again,” a stoic Kim said after his final round. “I feel blessed I have this opportunity. I’ve got to work on a lot of things but had some things going this week. I’m looking to build on that and I look to be in contention this year.

“It meant everything [to have his wife, Emily, and daughter, Bella, at the tournament this week]. I wouldn’t be here without them. Everyone at LIV has been first class and I’m honored to be part of this organization and moving forward I hope to represent them well.”

Niemann and LIV’s 53 other players head to Hong Kong next week for the fourth LIV event of the season. But he’s not tired.

“I want to keep going,” he said.