Golf roundup: Joaquin Niemann stays hot, posts second win in past three LIV starts

LIV Golf photo by Charles Laberge via AP / Joaquin Niemann hits a shot on the 13th hole at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club during the final round of the LIV Golf Jeddah tournament Sunday in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.
LIV Golf photo by Charles Laberge via AP / Joaquin Niemann hits a shot on the 13th hole at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club during the final round of the LIV Golf Jeddah tournament Sunday in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia — Joaquin Niemann's success rate is rapidly improving.

The 25-year-old from Chile earned his second victory in three starts to begin the LIV Golf League's 2024 season, closing with a 4-under-par 66 at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on Sunday to finish the 54-hole event at 17-under 193.

That gave Niemann a four-shot victory over South African players Louis Oosthuizen (67) and Charl Schwartzel (68).

Including Sunday's LIV Golf Jeddah victory, Niemann has three wins in the past three months, starting with the Australian Open in December, which allowed him to rejoin the Europe-based DP World Tour and eventually put him on the path toward getting a special invitation to the Masters.

Niemann won twice on the PGA Tour earlier in his career, but after his Genesis Invitational triumph in February 2022, he was winless until last December in Australia. He joined the Saudi-funded LIV circuit in August 2022, a few months after it launched, but he didn't win one of its events until this year's opener in Mexico, which he began with a 59 and finished with a playoff victory over 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

Now he's at the top of the LIV points list.

In the final round, no one got closer than within two shots of Niemann, who took a dig at the Official World Golf Ranking in his interview with LIV's broadcast team after being asked if he was one of the favorites to win a major this year.

"How is that possible? I'm like 100 in the world," Niemann said with a grin.

Niemann was No. 72 in the most recent ranking. The OWGR, in a vote cast by the organizations that run the majors, chose not to award points for LIV events because of the small fields (54 players) that do not allow qualifiers.

The Masters gave Niemann an invitation last month based on his Australian Open victory, along with two other top-five performances on the Europe-based circuit. The Australian Open win gets him into the British Open this year and is likely to earn him a spot in the PGA Championship. He would have to qualify for the U.S. Open, though — unless he wins the year's first major next month at Augusta National.

"I'm more than happy about the way I'm playing," Niemann said. "I just want to keep on the same path."

Anthony Kim, who had gone 12 years without competitive golf until signing a deal with LIV this past week, finished last — he was 33 shots out of the lead after shooting 76-76-74 — but his deal allows him to play the rest of LIV's events this year without being attached to a team.

In team competition, captain Bryson DeChambeau's Crushers won by four strokes.

  photo  AP photo by Marta Lavandier / Chattanooga native Keith Mitchell hits from the rough on the 11th hole at PGA National's Champion Course during the final round of the PGA Tour's Cognizant Classic on Sunday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

See you Monday

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Austin Eckroat left PGA National Resort with a share of the lead Saturday.

He left with the outright lead Sunday.

To finish the job, he'll have to come back Monday.

The final round of the opening event on the PGA Tour's Florida Swing was interrupted by thunderstorms that brought nearly two inches of rain in a hurry and forced everyone off the Champion Course for 3 1/2 hours Sunday afternoon.

Eckroat was the leader at 15 under through seven holes of the final round, one shot ahead of South Africa's Erik van Rooyen — who roared up the leaderboard by opening his round with six consecutive birdies on his way to an 8-under 63.

Eckroat finished at 14-under 270 for 72 holes, and now he waits to see what'll happen.

"Just a weird day," the 25-year-old from Oklahoma told the Golf Channel.

It's the first time this tournament, formerly known as the Honda Classic, will have a Monday finish since 2015.

Van Rooyen was alone in second, and Jake Knapp — the winner last week in Mexico — was 5 under for the round through 15 holes, ending Sunday at 13 under overall and alone in third, two shots back.

Billy Horschel (5 under through 17) was in the fourth-place group at 12 under, along with Keith Mitchell (65), Shane Lowry (who completed five holes) and Alex Noren (who completed 12 holes).

Mitchell is a Chattanooga native and Baylor School graduate whose win at this event in 2019 remains his only PGA Tour victory, but he has a chance for his best finish of the season. This is his seventh start of 2024, and his highest place is a tie for ninth at The American Express in January. He has 11 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.

Van Rooyen started the day tied for 31st and seven shots off the 54-hole lead that was shared by Eckroat, Lowry and David Skinns, but he needed only eight holes to catch them. He was 8 under for the round through 11 holes and the outright leader when the rain came, but he was at par after the restart.

"Being that far back, you know you have to make a run at it," van Rooyen said. "The course is playing so soft right now. Getting off to a great start was awesome, but the rain delay probably didn't help me much. I had so much momentum."

Play was suspended at 12:50 p.m. with six twosomes yet to begin the round and 50 minutes before the final group — Lowry and Skinns — were scheduled to tee off. The longer the delay went, the more a Monday finish was inevitable, with sunset happening at 6:23 p.m.

"We had to suspend because it became too dangerous," PGA Tour rules official Mark Dusbabek told Golf Channel. "The system came right up overhead. Lightning struck three miles away, so we had to suspend and get the players to safety — and the spectators."

The delay lasted about 3 1/2 hours. Play resumed at 4:18 p.m.

Green is good

SINGAPORE — Hannah Green made a stunning 27-foot putt on the final hole to clinch a one-stroke victory over Celine Boutier at the HSBC Women's World Championship.

Green made six birdies in the final round, including on each of the final three holes, against one bogey to close with a 5-under 67 and finish the 72-hole event at 13-under 275.

It was the 27-year-old Australian's fourth LPGA Tour title and her first since the L.A. Championship last April.

"I knew on the greens I needed to be aggressive and make sure I got the putt past the hole versus leaving them short," Green said after her dramatic finish in the 66-player, no-cut event.

Boutier (67), a 30-year-old from France with six career wins on the LPGA Tour — four came last year, including the Evian Championship for her first major title — seemed destined for No. 7 when she was two strokes ahead in the final stages at Sentosa Golf Club. Green's magical finish denied her the chance to celebrate.

While Green's 67 was her third straight, Boutier's final round was five shots better than her third.

"I think I played a lot better than yesterday, which was really positive. I feel like I made some putts and I gave myself a lot of chances," Boutier said. "So I'm very satisfied with my round, and it was great to even have a thought of making it a playoff."

Four players tied for third at 9 under: Japan's Yuna Nishimura (66), South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee (67), Canada's Brooke Henderson (68) and Japan's Nasa Hataoka (69).

  photo  AP photo by Danial Hakim / LPGA Tour player Hannah Green celebrates after making a 27-foot putt on the 18th hole at Sentosa Golf Club to win the HSBC Women's Wold Championship on Sunday in Singapore.

'Means everything'

EASTERN CAPE, South Africa — Jordan Gumberg, a 28-year-old American who was No. 669 in the most recent Official World Golf Ranking, became a surprise winner of the DP World Tour's SDC Championship when he beat Robin Williams on the second hole of a playoff at St. Francis Links.

The final round went to extra holes after Williams made a double bogey on the 17th hole to fall back to even with Gumberg, who had started the day three shots off the lead.

Both players made par on the final hole of regulation — Gumberg closed out a 4-under 68 and Williams had a 69 to finish 72 holes at 12-under 276 — as well as the first playoff hole. After they went back to the 18th for the third straight time, Gumberg ended it with his 15-foot birdie putt.

"I never really got this far in my dreams," he said. "So I'm kind of at a loss for words, but it means everything."

Williams, a 22-year-old from South Africa, still secured his best tournament finish on the Europe-based circuit, doing so two weeks after tying for third at another event in his home country.

France's David Ravetto closed with a 70 to finish third at 10 under on Sunday, while six players shared fourth place.

Multiple firsts

QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand — Takahiro Hataji's New Zealand Golf Open victory was notable for multiple reasons.

It was the 30-year-old's first professional win. It was the first win by a golfer from Japan — and all of Asia — in the event, which was being played for the 103rd time. And it made him the first Japanese winner on the Australasian PGA Tour since Isao Aoki in 1989.

Hataji closed with a bogey-free 4-under 67 to finish the 72-hole tournament at 17-under 267, a stroke ahead of 50-year-old Australian player Scott Hend, who was bidding to overtake Kel Nagle as this tournament's oldest winner in the modern era.

Hend, after back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th, came to the last hole of regulation at Millbrook Resort tied with Hataji. Hend hit his tee shot on the par-3 18th to the back of the green, and his putt for the championship ran past the hole. His return putt to force a playoff lipped out, but he made the next one for a bogey and a 69. That kept him alone in second place, ahead of the three players who shared third.

"It was a really tough day, but I have the trophy, so I am feeling very happy now," Hataji said. "I'm happy, but (Hend) played very well, so when his putt missed, I felt a bit sorry for him, too."

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