SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – When Cameron Smith joined LIV Golf, he already had won three times in 2022, including the Open Championship, and had become one of the world’s top golfers. And yet he felt that skeptics remained because of his career decision.
In making his inaugural start in Boston, Smith called it “the most pressure I’ve been under all year inside of an event. I feel as though I needed to prove to myself and probably more so to other people that just because I’ve changed tours doesn’t mean I’m a worse player for it. I’m still out here to win.”
On Sunday at the LIV Golf Invitational Chicago, that’s exactly what the 29-year-old Australian did, claiming the individual trophy at Rich Harvest Farms by three strokes over Peter Uihlein and Dustin Johnson.
Smith shot a final-round 3-under 69 to finish at 13 under, with Uihlein also shooting 69 to claim second place in points via tiebreaker ahead of Johnson.
Johnson, however, did get to celebrate with his 4 Aces GC team, which won for the fourth consecutive time, completing the sweep of the U.S. regular-season events before the Invitational Series heads overseas to Thailand and Saudi Arabia for the next two tournaments. Patrick Reed’s 68 – which included two chip-ins, one for eagle and one for birdie – and Pat Perez’ 69 led the way on Sunday, with Johnson supplying a 70.
Even though Johnson, the individual winner in Boston, rarely put heat on Smith on the back nine, the 4 Aces captain delivered the winning birdie on the par-5 18th for the $3 million first-place team prize. Uihlein’s Smash GC, captained by Brooks Koepka, made its first appearance on the team podium this season and will split second-place prize money of $1.5 million.
“I knew we were one shot ahead,” Johnson said. “Playing with Pete and Cam, I knew I needed to at least tie Pete on the last hole for us to get the win. Great day, though. Really proud of the guys. It was really nice to get that fourth victory in a row.”
As for Smith, his birdie on the 18th hole also impacted the team standings, even though he had safely sewn up with the individual result. By making birdie, the captain of Punch GC moved his team into a third-place tie with Phil Mickelson’s Hy Flyers GC.
“I said to Sam, my caddie, we need to drain this one for the boys,” Smith said. “It was nice to get that done because I know it means a lot for those boys, but also the team standings for the end-of-the-year event.”
Smith, who finished one stroke out of the three-man playoff won by Johnson in Boston, suffered a couple of early bogeys before bouncing back with three birdies in a five-hole stretch midway through his round. The key moment came in response to Johnson’s birdie at the par-5 7th to momentarily grab a share of the lead. Smith then drained his own birdie putt on top of Johnson’s to reacquire the lead, then followed with another birdie at the 8th to extend it.
“I think it was quite frustrating at the start of the day,” said Smith, who won $4 million in individual prize earnings. “My warmup wasn’t fantastic. I didn’t feel like I was striking the ball as well as I had the first couple of days. I just kind of stuck in there.”
Uihlein had a roller-coaster back with four birdies and two bogeys but was glad he could stay within striking distance of Smith. “I don’t feel like he just coasted coming in,” said Uihlein, who now has two top five finishes in LIV Golf this season. “He’s the best player in the world for a reason. I’m really proud of the way I played.”
Uihlein and Chase Koepka were instrumental in helping Smash GC apply the pressure on the 4 Aces. Chase Koepka shot a 5-under 67 to lead his team while finishing ninth overall, with his brother adding a 70. “Chase kind of led us all day,” Brooks said.
Mickelson produced the low round of the day and his best round in LIV Golf this season, a 6-under 66 to lead his team. But it was Cameron Tringale’s late birdie that elevated Hy Flyers into third place.
“It was a big day for our team getting a little bit of momentum heading into the last three events,” Mickelson said. “And it was a big thing for me to have a big round because I haven’t played well starting out and I feel it’s starting to turn and starting to change. I just needed it to click.”
The 4 Aces have been clicking for four consecutive events, but Johnson said any talk of a dynasty is way too early.
“It doesn’t matter how many in a row we get,” he said. “We need to do it multiple years in a row, then we can be a dynasty.”
81 FREE MULLETS AND $110K FOR CHARITY
Inspired by Cameron Smith, the Mullets for Charity initiative being held at the pop-up barbershop in the Fan Village at LIV Golf Invitational Chicago was a huge success.
For every fan who volunteered to get their hair styled into a mullet, a $1,000 donation was made through LIV to Give, LIV Golf’s charitable giving platform.
In addition, a $30,000 donation was made after LIV Golf Commissioner and CEO Greg Norman received his mullet. That brought the overall total charitable amount to $110,000.
Smith had shears in hand after Saturday’s second round to start the haircut on Norman before the regular haircutters finished the job.
“Talking about nerves,” Smith said. “I was so nervous to cut Greg’s hair. I didn’t really want to stuff it up. I know he doesn’t have a lot left, so if I had have stuffed it up, it would have taken him a while to bring that back.”
PAT PEREZ JUST NEEDED TO WEAR SHORTS
Compared to the other members of the dominant 4 Aces GC, Pat Perez had supplied the fewest counting rounds. He wanted to increase his contributions, and this weekend he may have uncovered the secret – wearing shorts.
Prior to the second round in Boston two weeks ago, LIV Golf announced that players now have the option to wear shorts during competition days. But because the 4 Aces have played so well, captain Dustin Johnson didn’t want to tempt fate by altering their look. So all 4 Aces continued to wear pants the final two rounds in Boston, as well as the Friday’s first round in Chicago.
But with Perez coming off a 4-over 76, he made the request to wear shorts. Johnson obliged.
“We had a team dinner on Friday night after the first round, and yeah, we told Pat to just do Pat,” Johnson said. “Just wear shorts, do whatever you want, hat backwards, whatever. Just play better.”
Perez wore shorts for both weekend rounds, and his scores were markedly improved. He shot a 1-under 71 on Saturday and a 3-under 69 on Sunday, with both scores counting for his team.
“I was shooting amateur scores, so I figured I’d wear shorts,” Perez said. “But I had to change something up, and the last two days were good. Plus it was hot. I had to go with shorts.”
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 for each event 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. With Hy Flyers GC and Punch GC tying at 17 under, each team will receive $250,000, to be split equally among their four players. Hy Flyers receives points for third place in the season team point standings due to tiebreakers.
Here is the points leaderboard and Sunday’s counting scores in the final round at Rich Harvest Farms:
1. 4 Aces GC, 24 under (Patrick Reed 68, Pat Perez 69, Dustin Johnson 70)
2. Smash GC, 23 under (Chase Koepka 67, Peter Uihlein 69, Brooks Koepka 70)
3. Hy Flyers GC, 17 under (Phil Mickelson 66, Cameron Tringale 68, Matthew Wolff 72)
4. Punch GC, 17 under (Cameron Smith 69, Matt Jones 72, Wade Ormsby 72)
5. Stinger GC, 16 under (Louis Oosthuizen 69, Branden Grace 71, Charl Schwartzel 71)
6. Crushers GC, 15 under (Paul Casey 69, Anirban Lahiri 71, Bryson DeChambeau 71)
7. Torque GC, 14 under (Joaquin Niemann 68, Scott Vincent 70, Jediah Morgan 71)
8. Fireballs GC, 14 under (Sergio Garcia 67, Abraham Ancer 71, Eugenio Chacarra 71)
9. Cleeks GC, 8 under (Richard Bland 71, Laurie Canter 72, Graeme McDowell 74)
10. Majesticks GC, 7 under (Lee Westwood 72, Henrik Stenson 74, Ian Poulter 74)
11. Iron Heads GC, 1 under (Kevin Na 70, Phachara Khongwatmai 72, Sihwan Kim 74)
12. Niblicks GC, 1 under (Harold Varner III 72, James Piot 72, Turk Pettit 74)
Cameron Smith (on winning in LIV Golf’s inaugural season): “I think for sure there is a history aspect that is for certain missing, but it doesn’t mean that the tournament is a bad tournament because of it. There’s 48 of the best guys out here trying to compete and trying to win. In 10, 20 years’ time, these could be the biggest events in the world. We’re just not there yet.”
Patrick Reed (on his 68): “I knew coming in, especially with the way I played the first day, that I needed to go out and get off to a fast start and try to help out the team as much as I can and kind of rally these guys. I really couldn’t ask for really a better start with two chip-ins and a couple made birdie putts.”
Pat Perez (on the 4 Aces win): “I think it is cool, though, that the WNBA Aces won today and we won. I think it’s pretty cool because you don’t get too teams named Aces that win on a Sunday too often, so I think that was pretty cool. It came on my phone. I knew it. I was watching it all day. I had the Aces.”
Driving accuracy – Sergio Garcia, Scott Vincent, Pat Perez, 85% (12 of 14 fairways)
Driving distance – Jediah Morgan, 334.8-yard average
Greens in regulation – Joaquin Niemann, 89% (16 of 18 greens)
Fewest putts – Patrick Reed, 23 putts
Most birdies – Phil Mickelson, 9
Easiest hole – 522-yard par-5 18th, which played to a stroke average of 4.396.
Hardest hole –451-yard par-4 10th, which played to a stroke average of 4.313.
Course stroke average: Rd. 1 (71.188). Rd. 2 (71.771). Rd. 3 (71.5). Par is 72.