JEDDAH: Jeddah, the penultimate stop in the 2023 LIV Golf League, is probably the most important in the 14-event schedule.
This week’s LIV Golf Jeddah, presented by ROSHN, at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City is the last-stop saloon for several players to retain their places in the lucrative league’s 2024 season.
The $20 million tournament will also determine the individual champion of the 2023 LIV Golf League, and the teams have one last chance to jockey for better positions going into next week’s $50 million Team Championship in Miami.
Here are the six big stories worth following this week.
The race for the Individual Championship
The Individual Championship of LIV Golf’s 2023 season will be decided in Jeddah and it is now down to three players — Cameron Smith (170 points), Talor Gooch (162) and Bryson DeChambeau (146).
With 40 points for the champion this week, Patrick Reed, who is in fourth with 121 points, has no chance of going past Smith.
Crushers captain DeChambeau has to win to secure the $18 million bonus for the overall champion, but he will still need help from Smith, who has to finish lower than fifth place, and from Gooch, who needs to finish lower than third position.
Gooch, winner of three titles this year, will have to finish inside the top 10 in order to displace Smith, and then hope that the Australian finishes outside the points (24th place).
Both Gooch and Smith can secure the title provided they win this week.
The jostling for Team Championship
With the Team Championship scheduled for next week in Miami, there will be a battle on two fronts — those teams that want to finish in the top four (which secures them a bye in Friday’s quarterfinals), and the teams who do not want to be in the bottom four. The fifth to eighth-placed teams get to pick their opponent in the quarterfinals.
With 32 points in Jeddah for the winning team, 24 for the runners-up and 16 for third, the only team with a secured place in the semifinals is the all-American 4Aces (188 points). Crushers are second with 178, but they must be inside the points to get their Friday off in Miami.
Torque, which won four team titles this year, is the only other team apart from Crushers that can go to top of the points table with a win.
The last four teams are HyFlyers (40), Majesticks (27), Iron Heads (19) and Cleeks (16). A win this week can lift the first two teams inside the top eight.
Securing cards for 2024 LIV season
The most important numbers in the individual standings at the end of Jeddah are 24th and 44th. That is where the players need to finish if they want to secure their membership in LIV Golf’s 2024 season.
The top 24 players will be in Lock Zone, which means they get full playing privileges next year. No. 25-44 will be in the Open Zone, which implies that they will have to depend on trades and captains’ picks. No. 45-48 is the Drop Zone, which would take them out of LIV Golf. Only the captains are guaranteed a place in next year’s events.
As of now, Matthew Wolff is 25th on 49 points, and Pat Perez and Abraham Ancer are both at 47 points. Austrian Bernd Wiesberger is the man on No. 44 and in need of a good week to prevent a slide into the Drop Zone.
Resurgence of Dustin Johnson?
By his own high standards, former world No. 1 and multiple major champion Dustin Johnson is not having a season he would remember. Johnson is also the defending overall individual champion of LIV Golf.
Not that the 4Aces captain is doing badly — he won LIV Golf Tulsa earlier this year — but his last four outings have seen him finish 32nd, 14th and 10th. The Royal Greens course would be a great place for him to make a push, having won the Saudi International at this venue in 2019 and 2021 and finishing second to Graeme McDowell in 2020.
Brooks Koepka’s repeat mission
Rome and the Ryder Cup did not end all that well for Koepka and the American team, so watch out for the defending LIV Golf Jeddah champion to come back with a vengeance and make some noise this week.
Koepka, winner of LIV Golf Orlando and the PGA Championship this year, has some great memories from last year, when he won the title after a slugfest with his Smash teammate Peter Uihlein.
The form of David Puig
The young Spaniard is coming off a win in the Asian Tour’s International Series event in Singapore with a superb score of 19-under par on a tough golf course. Just 21 years old and straight out of Arizona State University, his youth, and time spent in Spain and Arizona, will be a big factor in coping with the heat, which is expected to play a significant role in Jeddah.