NORTH PLAINS, Oregon — Branden Grace won the first stop of LIV Golf on US soil, an event that drew critics and protesters alike due to Saudi Arabia’s funding of the new series.
Grace finished Saturday with a 7-under 65 and finished 13 under in the 54-hole tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. The 34-year-old South African won $4 million.
The fledgling LIV series, led by CEO Greg Norman and funded by the Saudi Arabian state fund, aims to challenge the PGA Tour. It has lured a number of players, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, with the promise of big signing bonuses, hefty prize money and fewer events.
Grace defeated Carlos Ortiz of Mexico by two strokes.
“Played golf flawlessly, played very, very well when I had to do something special and showed up and managed to pull it out,” Grace said. “But what a great day, it’s been great to come here, this new format, this new everything is great and everyone here is having a blast.”
Ortiz, number 119 in the world, shot a 69. Johnson (71) finished four back with Patrick Reed (67).
The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million scholarship, with an additional $5 million prize pool for a team competition. There was no cut and even the last place finisher earned a $120,000 payday. Charl Schwartzel won the tour’s inaugural event outside of London (and the team portion) earning $4.75 million.
The Four Aces team, led by Johnson, won the team competition at Pumpkin Ridge.
LIV Golf also announced on Saturday that England player Pat Casey has joined the series. Casey, 44, has won three times on the PGA Tour and 15 times on the European Tour, and is ranked number 26 in the world. He has not played a tournament round since March due to injuries.
The PGA Tour has responded to the upstart tour by suspending every active member who participated in the first LIV event. Those who played in Oregon were also banned unless they cancel their tour membership.
LIV Golf has been plagued by criticism since its inception, long before it came to the tiny North Plains, about 20 miles west of downtown Portland.
The city’s mayor and 10 fellow mayors from nearby communities wrote weeks ago to the owner of the Texas course, arguing that the event was not in line with community values because of the 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 11 terrorist attack came to North Plains on opening day of the tournament to protest the event. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on that day in 2001 were Saudi citizens. The group plans a larger demonstration before its next stop at Bedminster in New Jersey.
US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called the tour a “sports washes” for compromising Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Wyden pointed to the hit-and-run death of 15-year-old Fallon Smart in Portland in 2016. A Saudi citizen was charged in the case but disappeared before trial, and US officials believe he has escaped with the help of the Saudi government. chased out. A protester at the entrance Friday held a sign that read ‘Fallon Smart, 2000-2016’.
The players faced tough questions about their involvement before the tournament, with most chanting pats and insisting that golf can be a “force for good”. Others complained about the structure and grind of the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf calls it ‘golf, but louder’. In addition to concurrent team competition, the tournaments feature shotgun starts, interactive fan activities and blaring hip-hop on the driving range.
The crowds on Saturday were better than on Thursday and Friday. LIV Golf said it was sold out but would not reveal the number of tickets sold.
The next event of the tour will take place July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Casey is expected to join at that time.