BANGKOK: Richard Bland, Branden Grace and Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra upstaged their more illustrious opponents on Friday to shoot 7-under 65s and share the lead after the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok.
Marc Leishman and Ian Poulter were a stroke behind while Kim Sihwan, Brooks Koepka and Morgan Jediah were among those two behind in the 54-hole event.
The tournament is being played on the new Stonehill Golf Club north of downtown Bangkok. The course was created by American designer Kyle Phillips and opened this year.
Dustin Johnson, who leads the money list with just over $12.5 million in five events, shot 70. British Open champion Cameron Smith, who won the last LIV event in Chicago in mid-September, shot 72. It is the first time LIV Golf is being played outside the US since its inaugural event in early June near London.
Before the start of play, players learned that they still won’t accrue ranking points on the LIV series. The Official World Golf Ranking said in a statement Thursday that it had denied the MENA Tour’s request to immediately add the Saudi-backed series to its schedule.
The OWGR said the MENA Tour did not give it sufficient notice and there would not be time to finish the review ahead of the Bangkok tournament and next week’s event in Saudi Arabia.
LIV Golf created an alliance with the MENA Tour, which hasn’t run a tournament of its own since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MENA Tour stands for Middle East and North Africa and is a developmental tour that has been getting the bare minimum of world ranking points since 2016. It has 54-hole events with a 36-hole cut, offering a $75,000 purse.
“I don’t think it really was much of a response. I just hate when you sit on the fence. Just pick a side,” Koepka said Friday. “If it’s yes or no, just pick one. So I’m not a big fan of that.”
Bryson DeChambeau, who shot 69 Friday, said the decision by the rankings group was only “delaying the inevitable.
“We’ve hit every mark in their criteria, so for us not to get points is kind of crazy with having the top — at least I believe we have the top players in the world,” DeChambeau said. “We certainly believe that there’s enough that are in the top 50, and we deserve to be getting world ranking points. When they keep holding it back, they’re going to just keep playing a waiting game.”
MENA Tour says golf rankings ‘inaccurate’ without LIV events
Failure to award world-ranking points at the LIV Golf event in Thailand starting on Friday renders the rankings “inaccurate,” the MENA Tour said on Friday.
The top 50 players in the rankings qualify automatically for all four major tournaments. LIV Golf is not currently recognized by OWGR, meaning LIV players tumble down the rankings.
The MENA Tour hit back at the OWGR’s decision.
“Not including our event in this week’s OWGR render the results and subsequent player movements inaccurate,” David Spencer, commissioner of the MENA Tour, said in a statement.
Spencer added that “we will continue to work tirelessly to resolve this situation with the OWGR.”
LIV, which offers record $25 million purses, has already staged five events in its inaugural year.
But no ranking points have been awarded to its players, including Smith, former world No. 1 Johnson and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson.
LIV golfers have been banned from the PGA Tour, ruling out American players from qualifying for the 2023 Ryder Cup.
European stars who have left for LIV, including stalwarts Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, have all plummeted down the world rankings and seem unlikely to make Luke Donald’s team for the biennial contest, which takes place near Rome.