BEDMINSTER, NJ: Cameron Smith will take a four-shot lead into Sunday’s final round at LIV Golf Bedminster. Considering the difficulty of the course and Smith’s current form, catching the Ripper GC captain will be a huge challenge for the rest of the field.
But Smith, who won LIV Golf London last month and is seeking his third LIV Golf victory, is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s nice to have it,” he said after shooting a 4-under 67 on Saturday to finish at 9 under through the first two rounds. “I wouldn’t say it’s close to in the bag yet. There was a couple of tee shots out there where it gets pretty narrow, and if the driver is getting whirly, you’re hitting 3 off the tee. About as comfortable as I can be at a course like this.”
One of his closest pursuers is HyFlyers GC Captain Phil Mickelson, who also shot 67 and is tied for second with Stinger GC’s Dean Burmester at 9 under. Those three will be in the leaders group — and for Mickelson, it’s the first time in his 18 regular-season LIV Golf starts that he’ll play in the final group on a Sunday. The T2 position is his best after any LIV Golf round.
“It would mean a lot to me to win one of these events,” said the 53-year-old Mickelson, seeking his first professional win since the 2021 PGA Championship. “I am really trying hard. That’s a strong goal of mine. I'm working really hard to do it.
“This is a great stepping-stone for me to build on and to have that opportunity tomorrow, and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
Although Smith has a healthy advantage on the individual leaderboard, the team competition at Bedminster is tight. Ripper GC and Stinger GC are tied at 11 under, with RangeGoats GC at 7 under and HyFlyers at 6 under.
LIV Golf has never had a team playoff in its history, but Sunday’s battle promises to be close. Smith’s Rippers are looking for their first team victory, having come in second in London. Last week at Greenbrier, Ripper failed to finish inside the top 8 that receive points for the season-long competition.
“I think collectively as a team we’ve all been trying to just work a little bit harder the last couple of months,” Smith said. “Not really do anything different, just put our heads down, and you can see it kind of flourishing there a little bit.
“Last week wasn’t our greatest week, but it’s good to see us at the top of the that leaderboard again, and it gives me motivation to go out there and shoot another low one tomorrow.”
The Stingers finished third at Greenbrier and will be looking for their sixth podium finish of the season. The South African team could move into second place in the season-long standings behind 4Aces GC, depending on how Torque GC fares on Sunday.
“Tomorrow if we can get a team win, then everyone is going to shave their head,” Burmester said, “so I’m excited for that.”
Meanwhile, the excitement level for the final group will definitely be high, given that Mickelson has always drawn huge support from fans in the area. Seeing him in contention in the final round will only increase their enthusiasm.
“I love playing in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area,” Mickelson said. “The people have been great to me here, and I feel good hitting some good shots and shooting some good scores.”
Smith expects a vocal crowd to follow the leaders.
“I don’t mind a rowdy crowd,” he said. “I actually quite enjoy it.”
Here are the standings and counting scores for Saturday’s second round of the team competition at LIV Golf Bedminster. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.
T1. RIPPER GC (-11): Cameron Smith 67, Marc Leishman 69, Matt Jones 70 (Rd. 2 score: -7)
T1. STINGER GC (-11): Louis Oosthuizen 68, Dean Burmester 68, Branden Grace 69 (Rd. 2 score: -8)
3. RANGEGOATS GC (-7): Bubba Watson 69, Thomas Pieters 69, Talor Gooch 70 (Rd. 2 score: -5)
4. HYFLYERS GC (-6): Phil Mickelson 67, James Piot 70, Brendan Steele 72 (Rd. 2 score: -4)
5. CRUSHERS GC (-5): Anirban Lahiri 64, Paul Casey 72, Bryson DeChambeau 73 (Rd. 2 score: -4)
6. 4ACES GC (-3): Patrick Reed 70, Peter Uihlein 70, Pat Perez, 73 (Rd. 2 score: Even)
7. FIREBALLS GC (-2): Carlos Ortiz 70, Sergio Garcia 70, Eugenio Chacarra 71 (Rd. 2 score: -2)
8. CLEEKS GC (+2): Richard Bland 70, Graeme McDowell 71, Martin Kaymer 73 (Rd. 2 score: +1)
9. TORQUE GC (+3): David Puig 70, Mito Pereira 71, Joaquin Niemann 72 (Rd. 2 score: Even)
10. IRON HEADS GC (+5): Kevin Na 69, Scott Vincent 70, Danny Lee 75 (Rd. 2 score: +1)
11. MAJESTICKS GC (+6): Laurie Canter 69, Ian Poulter 69, Henrik Stenson 74 (Rd. 2 score: +3)
12. SMASH GC (+8): Jason Kokrak 71, Matthew Wolff 73, Brooks Koepka 76 (Rd. 2 score: +7)