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Branden Grace won LIV Golf’s first stop on American soil, an event that attracted critics and protesters alike due to Saudi Arabia’s funding of the upstart streak.
On Saturday, Grace closed out 7-65 and finished 13th in the 54-hole tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. The 34-year-old South African won $4 million.
Led by CEO Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, the new LIV series is set to challenge the PGA Tour. He lured some players, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Kepka and Phil Mickelson, with promises of big signup bonuses, solid prize wallets and fewer events.
Grace beat Mexican Carlos Ortiz by two strokes.
“I played golf flawlessly, played very, very well, when I needed to do something special, and I stepped up and managed to do it,” Grace said. “But what a great day, it was great to come here, this new format, this is new, everything is amazing and everyone here is having fun.”
Ortiz finished second. 119th in the world, 69th roll. Johnson (71) finished four behind Patrick Reed (67).
A 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million prize pool with an additional $5 million prize pool for the team competition. There was no cut, and even the last-place finisher received a $120,000 salary. Charl Schwarzel won the tour’s first event outside of London (and the team part) for $4.75 million.
The Four Aces team, led by Johnson, won the tag team event at Pumpkin Ridge.
LIV Golf also announced on Saturday that English player Pat Casey has joined the series. Casey, 44, has won the PGA Tour three times and the European Tour 15 times and is number one in the rankings. 26th place in the world. He has not played a single tournament round since March due to injury.
The PGA Tour has responded to the sudden tour by suspending all active members who participated in the first LIV event. Those who played in Oregon were also suspended unless they withdrew from the tour.
The LIV Golf has been under fire since its inception, long before it hit the tiny Northern Plains, about 20 miles west of downtown Portland.
The city’s mayor and 10 fellow mayors from nearby communities wrote to a Texas field owner a few weeks ago arguing that the event was not in line with community values due to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A group of families whose loved ones were killed in the September 20 attack. 11 people came to North Plains on the opening day of the tournament to protest. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day in 2001 were Saudi nationals. The group is planning a larger demonstration at their next stop in Bedminster, New Jersey.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called the tour a “sports wash” to belittle Saudi Arabia’s reputation for human rights. Wyden pointed to the death in 2016 of 15-year-old Fallon Smart in Portland. A Saudi national was charged in the case, but he disappeared before trial, and US officials believe he was smuggled out of the country with the help of the Saudi government. A protester at the entrance on Friday held up a sign that read “Fallon Smart, 2000-2016.”
Before the tournament, the players were faced with difficult questions about their participation, with most of them quoting standard responses and claiming that golf could be “a force for good”. Others have complained about the structure and routine of the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf claims it is “golf, only louder”. In addition to simultaneous team competition, the tournaments feature shotgun starts, interactive fan action, and the roar of hip-hop on the driving range.
The crowds on Saturday were better than on Thursday and Friday. LIV Golf said the tickets were sold out, but did not disclose the number of tickets sold.
The next tour event is scheduled for July 29-31 at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster. Casey is expected to join at this time.