JEDDAH: Having entered this week’s LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah off his best result this inaugural season, Brooks Koepka carried on where he left off on Friday with an 8-under 62 as the four-time major winner grabbed a 2-shot lead over Charl Schwartzel after the first round at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.
It’s the first time the Smash GC captain has led a LIV Golf event after any round in his six starts, and it matches the lowest score shot this season (Lee Westwood, 62, Boston).
Physically, Koepka is feeling better now than he has in the past three years and mentally, he feels good about his game, having recently reunited with swing coach Claude Harmon III after a nearly two-year split.
“I could see it coming,” he said Koepka after his bogey-free round that also included a lengthy par-saving putt at 13. “I’m very pleased with it, pleased with last week. Hopefully just put together two more good rounds.”
Last week in Bangkok, Koepka finished 9th, his first top 10 since joining LIV Golf, shooting rounds of 67-67-69. It was the first sign that his improved health – he’s been dealing with nagging problems all year, including hip issues that nearly required surgery – and his hard work with Harmon, short-game coach Pete Cowan and putting coach Jeff Pierce were taking effect.
“Last week was kind of a turning point for me,” Koepka added. And Chase, his brother and Smash GC teammate, agreed.
“It’s funny. He said something last week after the first round that it was the best he’s hit it in a long time. He just had a lot of lip-outs last week. The biggest thing for him is sorting out the driver a little bit. It seems like he’s got the right head in there now,” he said.
“When we played the last couple of days, he had very little curve on his driver and he was stuffing a lot of irons,” he added.
Thanks to Brooks’ 62, Chase’s 2-under 68 and Peter Uihlein’s 5-under 65, Smash GC jumped out to a 5-stroke lead in the team competition, hoping to win for the first time this season.
Torque GC, Niblicks GC and last week’s champions Fireballs GC each finished at 10 under, with Stinger GC at 9 under.
Schwartzel, the winner of the inaugural LIV Golf event in London, is the closest pursuer to Koepka. In a three-way tie for third at 5 under are Patrick Reed, Peter Uihlein and Hideto Tanihara.
Reed is trying to secure one of the two remaining bonus-payoff spots in the Individual Champion standings. Dustin Johnson already has secured the title and the $18 million bonus from the $30 million purse.
Koepka does not have a mathematical chance to climb inside the top three, but he does have the opportunity to double-dip this week with the individual and team trophy, as well as build momentum for Smash GC going into the Team Championship in Miami on Oct. 28-30.
“The golf swing is starting to come around,” he said. “I’m excited. Kind of sucks we only have this event and Miami left, and a bunch of time off. But it will be fine.”