LAS VEGAS: Smash GC’s dominant team performance in Saturday’s final round of LIV Golf Las Vegas allowed captain Brooks Koepka to celebrate his fifth trophy of any kind since joining LIV Golf, while teammate Talor Gooch became the first player to win trophies with three different teams.
But perhaps the most meaningful celebration came from Graeme McDowell, who joined Smash as a free-agent signee during the offseason. For the first time in his 24 starts in LIV Golf, G-Mac was able to enjoy a podium finish.
“They keep handing me the trophy because I’ve never had one before,” said the 44-year-old McDowell.
The individual trophy went to someone who has become quite familiar with celebrating a LIV Golf victory. Dustin Johnson birdied the par-4 17th Saturday to break a three-way tie and earn his third individual trophy and 10th overall as the captain of 4Aces GC.
Johnson shot a gritty final-round 1-under 69 to finish at 12 under, one shot better than Gooch and RangeGoats GC’s Peter Uihlein. Johnson was the only one of the three marquee players in the final group to break par, as Jon Rahm shot 71 and Bryson DeChambeau shot 74.
“It’s a great win, and obviously today was tough,” said Johnson, who now leads the Individual Championship race through the first two events. “I knew it was going to be tough obviously with the conditions.”
Indeed, gusty winds and chilly conditions made the final round at Las Vegas Country Club as challenging as any since LIV Golf debuted in 2022. Just 17 of 54 players broke par, and the field stroke average was more than three strokes higher than the previous two rounds.
McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion from Northern Ireland, thrived in the tough conditions. His 5-under 65 was two strokes better than any other player, as he fueled Smash’s late surge on the final holes to break open a tight leaderboard.
“I’ve been living in Florida for about 15 years, but thankfully I still remember how to play in the wind,” said McDowell, the only player to produce a bogey-free round Saturday, missing just one fairway and three greens. “The game has really been trending for the last six months.”
With Gooch shooting 67 and Koepka and Jason Kokrak contributing 69s, Smash shot 10 under as a team. The other 12 teams were a cumulative 66 over.
It is the kind of performance that Koepka envisioned when he overhauled his roster in the offseason, trading for Gooch — last year’s Individual Champion — and adding McDowell to solidify the roster and provide the kind of grit he felt his team was missing during a disappointing 2023 season.
“That was the plan, to bring in two guys that have experience, that know how to win, and to be in this situation where I feel like we’re competing every week,” Koepka said.
Johnson appears set to compete every week, too, after an inconsistent 2023 season. Although he won one individual title and two team trophies, he failed to meet his own expectations, and decided to ramp up his efforts coming into 2024.
“This year I’ve got a little more drive and determination because I don’t enjoy not playing well,” Johnson said.
At one point on Saturday, six players were tied for the lead, but Johnson battled back from three bogeys midway through his round to produce three birdies in his last six holes, including the decisive one at the 17th.
“I figured if he birdied 17, it was pretty much his, but if he didn’t, I felt like I had a chance for a playoff,” said Uihlein. “He’s a stud for a reason.”