NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Branden Grace won the first leg of LIV Golf on U.S. soil, an event that drew criticism and protesters due to the series’ funding coming from Saudi Arabia.
Grace finished with a 7-under 65 on Saturday to finish 13 under the 54-hole tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
The all-new LIV series, led by CEO Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, aims to challenge the PGA Tour. He attracted some players, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, with the promise of big signing bonuses, big purses and fewer events.
Grace beat Mexican Carlos Ortiz by 2 strokes.
“I played golf flawlessly, I played really well when I needed to do something special and I managed to do it,” Grace said. “But what a great day, it was amazing to come here, this new format, this new everything is amazing and everyone here is having fun.”
The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for team competition. There was no cut and even the last won $120,000. Charl Schwartzel won the tour’s inaugural event outside of London (and the team portion) and pocketed $4.75 million.
Grace won $2,025,000 for her work at the Centurion in the inaugural LIV event ($1,275,000 for finishing tied for third in the individual event, $750,000 for being part of the winning team ). He earned an additional $4,375,000 on Saturday ($4 million for the individual win and an additional $375,000 for making the second-place team).
His two-week earnings of $6.4 million are the highest of any player so far in the LIV season. His highest on-course earnings in a single PGA Tour season were $2,878,868 in 2015-16.
Ortiz, ranked No. 119 in the world, shot a 69. Johnson (71) finished four behind with Patrick Reed (67).
The Four Aces team, led by Johnson, won the tag team competition at Pumpkin Ridge.
The PGA Tour responded to the upstart tour by suspending all active members who participated in the first LIV event. Those who played in Oregon were also suspended unless they resign from their tour membership.
LIV Golf has faced criticism since its inception, long before it arrived in the tiny North Plains, about 20 miles west of downtown Portland.
The city’s mayor and 10 other mayors from nearby communities wrote to the Texas-based course owner a few weeks ago, objecting that the event did not align with community values due to human rights abuses. in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A group of families whose loved ones were killed by the 9/11 terrorist attack came to North Plains on the opening day of the tournament to protest the event. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day in 2001 were Saudi citizens. The group is planning a larger demonstration for the next stop in Bedminster, New Jersey.
US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called the tour “sportswashing” to damage Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Wyden pointed to the 2016 hit-and-run death of 15-year-old Fallon Smart in Portland. A Saudi national was charged in the case but disappeared before trial, and US officials believe he was deported from the country with the help of the Saudi government. On Friday, a protester at the entrance held a sign reading “Fallon Smart, 2000-2016”.
Ahead of the tournament, players were faced with tough questions about their involvement, with most reciting simple answers and saying golf can be a “force for good”. Others have complained about the structure and grind of the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf claims it’s “golf, but stronger”. In addition to simultaneous team competition, the tournaments feature shotgun starts, interactive fan activities and hip-hop howls on the driving range.
Crowds on Saturday were larger than Thursday and Friday. LIV Golf said it was a sold-out sale, but did not reveal the number of tickets sold.
The next event on the tour is scheduled for July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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