golf

Branden Grace shoots 61 to take lead at LIV Tulsa

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Branden Grace of South Africa holed nine birdies during a bogey-free 61 to take a two-stroke lead after the opening round at LIV Golf Tulsa on Friday in Broken Arrow, Okla.

At the Saudi-backed league’s inaugural event in the Tulsa area, Grace broke the record for the lowest round in LIV’s brief history. He grabbed the lead over Dustin Johnson and Brendan Steele, who each shot 7-under 63 at Cedar Ridge Country Club.

Just behind them are Cameron Smith of Australia and Joaquin Niemann of Chile, tied for fourth at 6-under 64. And Grace’s countryman and team captain Louis Oosthuizen shot a bogey-free 65 for sixth place at 5 under.

Grace began his round with a birdie at the par-4 seventh hole. After a string of four pars, he birdied three straight holes to get into gear.

He was 6 under with three holes to go and ended his round with a flourish, birdieing Nos. 4-6, two of which were par 3s.

“I think if you can be aggressive and you really back yourself off the tees, you can go in with a lot lower irons into the greens,” Grace said. “The greens are quite tricky. They’re quite severe with the slopes and things. But if you can just stick to your game plan, try and hit your spots and kind of forget about the pins and try to give yourself the putts, the greens are really good.”

Grace is not exempt into the field for next week’s PGA Championship, the second major of the men’s golf season, but Johnson and Steele will be among the 18 LIV players there.

“Listen, this for us is majors at the moment, so we’ll take it,” Grace said. “But it’s good. Every time you can shoot low numbers, it’s good, and it’s nice to see the team playing well, as well. It’s not just for me this week.”

Johnson was having a so-so day before draining five straight birdies at Nos. 13-17 to move up the board.

“I know I’m swinging well,” Johnson said. “Didn’t drive it well even though I’ve been driving it really good lately, just obviously drove it better after about 12, No. 12, or 13. Hit some really good drives coming down the stretch. But yeah, I was just kind of managing my game through those (earlier) holes.

“When I did hit the fairway, I felt like I made birdies.”

Steele had an eagle at the par-5 fifth, one bogey and six birdies.

The all-South African Stinger GC jumped out to a six-shot lead in the team competition through one round, thanks to Grace, Oosthuizen and Dean Burmester, the latter of whom shot a 3-under 67. They combined for a first-round score of 17 under, well ahead of Johnson’s 4Aces GC at 11 under. Pat Perez shot a 3-under 67 and Patrick Reed had a 1-under 69 for 4Aces.

Talor Gooch, who won consecutive LIV events in Singapore and Australia and who hails from the state of Oklahoma, opened his weekend with a 2-under 68.

Phil Mickelson will return to the PGA Championship for the first time since he won the 2021 PGA at a record-setting 50 years old. Mickelson is tied for 39th in Tulsa at 1-over 71.

–Field Level Media

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