For the second consecutive LIV Golf Invitational, Branden Grace shot 65 in the final round. In London, it produced a third-place podium finish. In Portland, it resulted in the biggest payday of his 15-year professional career.
Grace’s 7-under 65 on Saturday at Pumpkin Ridge gave him the individual title at the LIV Golf Invitational Portland. His 13-under total for the 54-hole event was two strokes better than Carlos Ortiz, with Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson finishing another two strokes back.
Johnson’s 4 Aces GC claimed the team title at 23 under, seven strokes ahead of Stinger GC, the winning team in London. Thanks to Ortiz’s birdie on the final hole, Fireballs GC took third place and the final money position, one stroke ahead of Torque GC.
Grace’s win comes on the heels of a third-place finish in London, as the South African has found his form since joining LIV Golf. He follows countryman Charl Schwartzel in the winner’s circle, with Schwartzel having claimed the inaugural event at Centurion Club.
In winning, Grace claimed the $4 million individual prize, as well as a quarter-share of the $1.5 million second-place prize won by Stinger GC, making his total payout Saturday at $4.375 million. For the two LIV Golf events, he’s now won $6.4 million.
“I played with DJ at London, as well, on the Sunday and played really nicely, and just kind of found a groove,” said Grace after winning for the 15th time as a pro. “I’ve been feeling really comfortable. I’ve been hitting the shots that I see and things like that, and that’s really important and gives you the confidence.
“Today was nothing different. From the first hole I hit the ball great. I made a couple of nice putts when it mattered, and obviously things go your way when you win a golf tournament.”
Grace produced several pivotal shots while battling with Ortiz and Johnson in the final group. He drove the green at the par-4 8th hole to set up a birdie. He rolled in a lengthy birdie putt at 10. He birdied the difficult par-4 13th, one of just two birdies recorded at the hole Saturday. His hole-out for birdie at the 16th gave him a two-shot lead with two to play. He followed with another birdie at the 17th, as he shot 5-under on his back nine.
“I thought the birdie on 13 was huge,” Grace said. “That hole doesn’t suit me at all with my little fade. Going in there, the trees blocked me on the left, so hit a great drive down there, had a perfect number for a 3-iron, hit the 3-iron to about 20 feet and managed to make the putt. Then I thought I’m really in the tournament.”
Ortiz and Johnson, meanwhile, simply couldn’t keep up. Ortiz, who at one point held a 5-shot lead, shot a 3-under 69, while Johnson shot a 1-under 71.
“Obviously Branden played really well,” Johnson said. “But I did get it back to where I was within one with six or seven holes to go, and then he decided to go on a little tear there birdieing every hole coming in.”
Ortiz, a native of Mexico, enjoyed the vibe in playing in the last group. He said he fed off the energy from the fans at Pumpkin Ridge.
“They were unbelievable — I didn’t even know there were that many Mexicans in Portland,” joked Ortiz. “… It was unbelievable. I haven’t had that many opportunities to be in final groups maybe like DJ, but it was crazy from the beginning. Both sides of the fairway were full of people, until the end, putting the ropes behind us. It was great. Being able to fight it out with Gracey, we were kind of in there until he decided to just keep going and left us behind. It was awesome. We had a great time.”
Although Johnson didn’t make the individual podium – he lost the third-place tiebreaker to Reed – he was happy to see his 4 Aces GC romp to the team title. The other two members are Talor Gooch, whose 2-under 70 score counted, and Pat Perez, whose 8-over 80 on Saturday did not contribute to the team score. Perez shot a 3-under 69 on Thursday to help the 4 Aces get out to an early tournament lead.
“The fans were electric from start to finish,” Johnson said. “I mean, there was a ton of energy out there, obviously coming down 17 and 18. Would have liked to have been a little bit closer to Branden finishing, but obviously he played unbelievable today and deserved everything with the way he played. But I thought the fans and the crowd were absolutely amazing.”
Reed said he fed off the support from the fans in shooting a bogey-free 5-under 67. He made a late run, holing out from eagle at the 17th before rolling in a birdie putt at 18.
“It was unreal. I might be moving to Portland sometime soon, so many fans on my side. I’m like, this is amazing,” Reed said. “… To go ahead and eagle 17 and start throwing fist pumps today, I haven’t done that in God knows how long. Just that energy felt amazing. Being able to chip in on 18 and see the crowd just go absolutely insane and then come back and watch these guys finish up, seeing fans just pile in behind them — we don’t get that every week.”
LIV Golf returns to action July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey.
FIREBALLS IN THE MONEY AFTER CLUTCH ORTIZ BIRDIE
As Carlos Ortiz stood over his lengthy birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday, he had no idea how much was on the line.
His Fireballs GC was tied with Torque GC for third place in the team standings. Since third place is the final payout position in the team competition, and because Ortiz’s score was among the three being counted in the third round, he now had a chance to unlock the tie.
Only after his putt dropped in did he realize its importance.
“When I heard my teammates scream,” Ortiz said, “that’s when I knew it meant something.”
The Fireballs split $500,000 for claiming third place. Dustin Johnson’s 4 Aces took the $3 million for first and Stinger GC claimed second to split $1.5 million.
Fireballs GC captain Sergio Garcia was happy to see his team – which includes Ortiz, Abraham Ancer and Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, all making their LIV Golf debuts this week – gain a podium finish.
But Garcia was disappointed that couldn’t contribute on Saturday. His 74 was the worst on the team and thus, did not count.
“Obviously, very proud of my team,” Garcia said. “I wish I would’ve done a little bit better …. It’s a great team – three really nice guys, young guys with a lot of talent. Super proud of having them as my teammates.”
In addition to the individual stroke-play competition, players are also competing as four-man teams during LIV Golf events. The best two scores in Round 1, the best two scores in Round 2, and the best three scores in Round 3 will combine to produce the team score.
The total team prize money is $5 million, with the winning team dividing $3 million, second place dividing $1.5 million and third place dividing $500,000 among its four team members.
Here is the final leaderboard and Saturday’s three counting scores at Pumpkin Ridge:
1. 4 Aces GC, 23 under (Patrick Reed 67, Talor Gooch 70, Dustin Johnson 71)
2. Stinger GC, 16 under (Branden Grace 65, Louis Oosthuizen 69, Charl Schwartzel 77)
3. Fireballs GC, 12 under (Carlos Ortiz 69, Abraham Ancer 71, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra 72)
4. Torque GC, 11 under (Jinichiro Kozuma 70, Yuki Inamori 71, Hideto Tanihara 72)
5. Iron Heads GC, 5 under (Phachara Khongwatmai 70, Kevin Na 72 Sadom Kaewkanjana 74)
6. Smash GC, 3 under (Adrian Otaegui 71, Chase Koepka 72, Richard Bland 73)
7. Niblicks GC, 2 under (James Piot 69, Hudson Swafford 71, Graeme McDowell 73)
8. Majesticks GC, Even (Lee Westwood 69, Sam Horsfield 74, Ian Poulter 74)
9. Crushers GC, 1 over (Bryson DeChambeau 73, Justin Harding 74, Peter Uihlein 78)
10. Cleeks GC, 2 over (Ian Snyman 71, Martin Kaymer 73, Scott Vincent 74)
11. Hy Flyers GC, 5 over (Matthew Wolff 70, Bernd Wiesberger 73, Itthipat Buranatanyarat 74)
12. Punch GC, 7 over (Matt Jones 72, Blake Windred 74, Wade Ormsby 77)
Branden Grace and Carlos Ortiz were the only two players to shoot sub-70 rounds all three days on the par-72 Pumpkin Ridge composite course. Grace shot 69-69-65, while Ortiz shot 67-69-69.
Ortiz was the top performer among the nine players making their LIV Golf debuts in Portland. How the other newcomers finished: Patrick Reed (-8), Matthew Wolff (-3), Bryson DeChambeau (-2), Abraham Ancer (-1), Yuki Inamori (-1), Brooks Koepka (Even), Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra (+5) and Pat Perez (+6).
Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai of Iron Heads GC was 5 under through his first 11 holes but suffered a triple-bogey at the par-5 fifth.
Branden Grace on the fans: “It was just nice that whether it was myself or Dustin or Carlos, whoever made a birdie, they were going nuts, and that what it’s supposed to be like. People are out there, they want to see you put on a show, and I feel that’s what we did pretty well today.”
Dustin Johnson, 4 Aces GC captain:“It still felt really good to get back in the mix, and obviously the juices were flowing. I was super excited about the position I was in. As far as motivation goes, I have more motivation than I’ve had in a while to perform.”
Pat Perez of 4 Aces GC: “It’s just been an unbelievable experience for me. This is the greatest thing I’ve ever been part of in golf. Even though I’ve won three times, it doesn’t matter … It’s the coolest week I think I’ve had ever, and even shooting 80 literally I’ve forgotten about it.”
Patrick Reed of 4 Aces GC: “This week was absolutely insane.”
PERFORMANCE STATS – ROUND 2
Average drive distance (drives recorded on hole Nos. 1 and 17) – Laurie Canter, 341.5 yards.
Longest drive – Laurie Canter, 374 yards, 363 yards, 17th hole.
Driving accuracy – Louis Oosthuizen, Hideto Tanihara, 86.67% (13 of 15 fairways).
Greens in regulation – Branden Grace, 88.89% (16 of 18 greens).
Scrambling – Patrick Reed, 100% (4 of 4).
Fewest putts – Phachara Khongwatmai, 24 putts.
Putts in GIR – Phachara Khongwatmai, 1.50.
Eagles made – Patrick Reed (17th hole)
Bogey-free round – Patrick Reed (67).
Easiest hole – 573-yard par-5 17th, which played to a stroke average of 4.604.
Hardest hole –211-yard par-3 3rd, which played to a stroke average of 3.479.
Course stroke average: Rd. 1 (73.542). Rd. 2 (72.479). Rd. 3 (72.979). Par is 72.