Jon Rahm came up frustratingly short in his LIV Golf debut on Sunday, but as a team captain he should take some measure of solace from the tour’s 2024 season opener: His team won.
With a bogey-bogey finish, Rahm squandered a chance to make a playoff with eventual winner Joaquín Niemann over Sergio García at Mayakoba Resort’s El Camaleón Golf Club in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, but his newly formed Legion XIII team won by four strokes.
“I’m very disappointed in myself,” said Rahm, the reigning Masters champion and world No. 3-ranked golfer whose defection from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf in early December sent shock waves through the game. “The only time I hit it in the hazard all week was on 17. But I’m very proud of my team.”
“We came in and we made an impact. I think everybody knows we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Caleb Surratt, who was making his professional debut after leaving college at Tennessee, joined Tyrrell Hatton and Kieran Vincent in helping the Rahm-led Legion XIII post a 24-under team score and hold off Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers.
“This team was just assembled Sunday or Monday,” Rahm said. “We came in and we made an impact. I think everybody knows we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Niemann, of Chile, won in near darkness with a birdie putt from the apron on the fourth playoff hole after the pair traded a series of pars in the longest playoff in LIV Golf’s three-year history.
“It was awesome,” Niemann said after a fifth consecutive playing of the 489-yard, par-4 18th hole in little more than an hour. “I want to win majors, but I’ve got to get in first.”
Niemann raced to a five-shot lead in the first round with a blistering 12-under 59. It proved to be anything but easy from there as he played his last 36 holes in even par to fall into a playoff with García at 12-under 201.
Niemann, at age 25, is LIV’s youngest team captain as leader of Torque GC. His 59 was only the second sub-60 score in LIV’s 23-event history, after DeChambeau shot 12-under 58 in the final round en route to winning last year at Greenbrier in West Virginia.
After signing for a 1-under 70 in on Saturday, Niemann was later assessed a two-stroke penalty for taking an improper drop from a cart path on the par-5 13th hole in violation of Rule 14.7a “Playing from Wrong Place.” It changed his par to a double bogey and trimmed his 36-hole lead from four to only two shots over Rahm and South African Dean Burmester.
García fired a final-round 5-under 66 to post 12-under – the same number Niemann and Rahm were sitting on through 16 holes Sunday – and had to sit and wait for the final group to finish to see if his total would hold up for a win or playoff.
After three consecutive birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 15 gained him a share of the lead, Rahm faltered. He tugged his drive on the 17th hole left and into the hazard and made bogey. His drive on 18 found a fairway bunker and scuttled his chances to catch the leaders as he made another bogey and tied for third with Burmester at 10-under.
After a clutch birdie at 16 reclaimed his own share of the lead, Niemann gave himself good birdie looks at 17 and 18 but failed to bury either one.
Niemann won $4 million from the $25 million purse, with the winning Legion XIII team collecting $4 million.
LIV introduced some changes to its format for 2024, foremost that the field has expanded to 54 players: 13 four-man teams plus two “wild cards.” Also, the top three scores count in the team standings for the first two rounds, but all four scores count in the final round of the 54-hole events.
LIV returns to action this week when the tour visits Las Vegas. LIV intends to complete play at Las Vegas Country Club, a former PGA Tour and LPGA host site, on Saturday to make room for Super Bowl XLIII at nearby Allegiant Stadium.
Steve Harmon and Scott Michaux