‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open

‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open
Min Woo Lee of Australia reacts following his victory on the final day of the Australian PGA Championship at the Royal Queensland Golf Club in Brisbane on Nov. 26, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open

‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open
  • Min Woo is enjoying the best year of his career, and has broken into the top 40 in the world for the first time
  • The Perth-born siblings will both be in action at the Australian Open because the men’s and women’s events take place at the same courses at the same time

SYDNEY: Australia’s newest golf star Min Woo Lee says that his rivalry with better-known sister Minjee Lee will fire him up as he chases a fourth DP World Tour title this week in Sydney.

The Perth-born siblings will both be in action at the Australian Open because the men’s and women’s events take place at the same courses at the same time.

The 25-year-old Min Woo has long been in his sister’s shadow, with the 27-year-old Minjee winning two majors and consistently one of the best players in women’s golf.

But the colorful Min Woo is enjoying the best year of his career and has broken into the top 40 in the world for the first time.

He won in Macau last month on the Asian Tour and carried that red-hot form into last week’s Australian PGA Championship, where he triumphed by three strokes for a third title on the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour.

He finished tied fifth at the US Open in June and has earned playing rights for the PGA Tour in 2024.

Speaking ahead of the Australian Open, which is co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour, Min Woo told reporters in Sydney that it was a mostly healthy rivalry with his older sister.

“I get a little pissed off when she wins the week after because I got the light on me for a little bit and then four days later or like a week later, she’s holding a trophy,” he said.

“We’re happy for each other. We want to only do well and inspire kids and keep playing good golf.

“So it’s not that bad of a sibling rivalry, but a little petty — from me usually.”

Min Woo’s win in Brisbane last week was also notable for his colorful celebrations, when he put on a chef’s hat at the 17th hole — before victory was sealed — at Royal Queensland Golf Club.

A beaming Min Woo, who appears to relish being in the limelight, also led the crowd in a “thunderclap.”

“I still have to ask my caddie where he got the chef hat on 17,” he said this week.

Like her brother, world No. 5 Minjee is also chasing a maiden victory at the Australian Open, where there is an equal split between men and women for prize money.

Their busy schedules mean that the siblings do not get much proper time to catch up.

But Minjee has watched her brother’s recent success with pride from afar — even if she’s loth to admit it. Typical siblings.

“I’d never say it to his face, but he plays really well and I’m always really proud of him,” she said after winning on the LPGA Tour on the same day that he secured his PGA Tour card for 2024.

“Over the past year he’s been playing great,” she added in Sydney this week.

The mixed Australian Open will take place at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Australian Golf Club across four days.

The nearby Lakes Golf Club is co-hosting for the first two days.


Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion

Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion
Updated 03 March 2024
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Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion

Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion
  • Crushers GC team to beat after stunning performances at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club

JEDDAH: Joaquin Niemann once again proved he is the hottest golfer on the planet right now and Crushers GC showed they are the most dominant team in the LIV Golf League with stunning performances at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

The Chilean golfer, captain of Torque GC, won the individual title by four shots with birdies on his last two holes. A four-under par 66 took him to 17-under par, four clear of Stingers captain Louis Oosthuizen (67) and his compatriot Charl Schwartzel (68).

Niemann’s win, his second of the season in three starts after LIV Golf Mayakoba, was remarkable, but it was the performance of the Bryson DeChambeau-led Crushers (-38) that became the talk of the golf course. They staged a magnificent charge on the final day, coming back from 11 shots behind and beating overnight leaders Stingers (-34) by four shots.

On a difficult, windy day, captain DeChambeau led from the front with the day’s lowest round of eight-under 62, which helped him finish fourth in the individual standings, while Charles Howell III contributed a 64 and Anirban Lahiri 65 (both tied sixth). They beat the previous record of the biggest comeback by a team in LIV history by four shots (4Aces in Adelaide last year).

Niemann now has three wins (Australian Open in December and two LIV wins), a third, a fourth, and a fifth position in his last six starts worldwide.

He started the final round two ahead and immediately increased that margin with a birdie on his opening hole. Thereafter, he continued to hit one good shot after another, with the only bogey of the day on the 13th hole, which also happened to be only his second bogey of the tournament. He closed with birdies on the 17th and 18th, which came after a huge drive of 410 yards.

The 25-year-old from Santiago, who has received a special invitational to play this year’s Masters and also qualified for the Open Championship following his win in Australia, said: “It feels amazing. It’s a super special moment. It’s always nice when you win, but I’m more proud of how I’m playing right now and the way I played out there today. It was a tough day. It was windy.

“I think this is the most confident I have ever felt on a golf course, the best I’ve ever played. I just want it to keep going in the same direction. There is a lot more to improve, and I think I just need to be curious about that and see how much I can learn.”

Niemann won $4 million and 40 points, which takes him to the top of the individual standings after three tournaments at 80 points.

Crushers were off to a solid start, but the real momentum boost was provided by DeChambeau, when he eagled the par-5 18th hole with a 20-feet putt, and then almost willed in a 15-feet birdie putt on his next hole to take his team level with Stingers. Howell and Lahiri kept adding birdies and it turned out to be a romp for the team.

On whether he thought a win was possible at the start of the day, DeChambeau said: “No, but I knew that our team is good enough to do it any day, especially with four scores counting. I can count on these guys to play really well.

“The top priority for us was to play our best, and it obviously showed today. Especially in these conditions, when it’s really windy, we do pretty well. We just hold our heads high.”

Lahiri said: “Bryson’s low round was the key. That was unbelievable golf. I was playing so well given the conditions that I thought I might be one of the lowest scores of the day, and if that gets beaten by two of my own teammates, it just shows how well we played as a team.”

Crushers are the reigning Team Championship winners and have moved to the top of the team standings. With a second place in Mayakoba, they now have 68 points, 18 ahead of second-placed Smash GC.


Red-hot Niemann takes second round lead at LIV Golf Jeddah

Red-hot Niemann takes second round lead at LIV Golf Jeddah
Updated 02 March 2024
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Red-hot Niemann takes second round lead at LIV Golf Jeddah

Red-hot Niemann takes second round lead at LIV Golf Jeddah
  • Chilean is 13 under par for the tournament, two shots ahead of South Africa’s former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel

JEDDAH: Joaquin Niemann says he has been a ‘slightly better’ golfer over the past few months. That seemingly small uptick in form is knocking the competition out of the park.

The red-hot Chilean, Captain of Torque GC, surged to a two-shot lead after the second round of the individual championship of LIV Golf Jeddah at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on Saturday, adding a bogey-free 64 to his opening 63 to finish with a 13-under-par score of 127. He was being chased by South Africa’s former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (66) at 11 under.

2010 Open Champion and Stingers Captain Louis Oosthuizen (66), another player in terrific form, was tied third at 10 under par alongside American Jason Kokrak, whose 62 was the lowest round of the day.

World No.3 Jon Rahm (69), the overnight leader and the highest-ranked player in the field, was among those tied for fourth place at 9 under.

American Anthony Kim, the most talked-about player in the field, making his comeback in professional golf after 12 years away, matched his first-round score of 76, finishing with 11 straight pars after going 6 over through the first seven holes.

Niemann began the round with seven straights pars before finishing with six birdies over the last 11 holes. It was another brilliant show from the 25-year-old from Santiago, who won the Australian Open in December and LIV Golf Mayakoba in February, finished fourth in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic and came third last week in the International Series Oman.

Asked what has changed in his game to trigger such a run of form, Niemann replied: “Me.”

He continued: “I think it was a little bit of everything. When I look back to last season, I wasn’t playing my best golf. Off the tee, iron shots, putting, my routines on the golf course, how I thought and how I prepared for tournaments…I think I am bit better in all of those.

“Obviously, I made a few changes in my swing and it’s been feeling a little bit better now. I’ve been able to hit all the trajectories I want to and that has given me the confidence to be aggressive off the tee. I am hitting that high draw (slight right-to-left flight) more often and it has helped me gain at least 20 yards on my usual low-cut shot that I had before.

Schwartzel, the 2012 Masters champion, had a nightmarish final round at the previous LIV event in Las Vegas, when he shot 10 over par in cold conditions and slipped to last in the field.

“I have the memory of a goldfish. I have no recollection of what happened in Vegas,” Schwartzel said when asked about the turnaround in his form. “Myself, Branden (Grace) and Dean (Burmester) all live (near each other) in the Palm Beach area, so we play a lot of golf together, and all of us have been playing pretty good golf. We didn’t do very good in Vegas. The weather was too cold for us. It’s a lot different here and we’re in much better spirits.”

Thanks to Schwartzel, Oosthuizen and Grace (65), the all-South African Stingers grabbed a seven-shot lead in the Team Championship with a 29-under-par total. The Rahm-led Legions XIII and Brooks Koepka’s Smash GC were tied for second at 22 under.


Rahm and Meronk share lead after first round of LIV Golf Jeddah

Rahm and Meronk share lead after first round of LIV Golf Jeddah
Updated 01 March 2024
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Rahm and Meronk share lead after first round of LIV Golf Jeddah

Rahm and Meronk share lead after first round of LIV Golf Jeddah
  • Despite the windy conditions, six players shot rounds better than 65 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club
  • “Really good day. Drove it great. Anytime you shoot a bogey-free 62, there’s not much that goes wrong,” said the Spaniard

JEDDAH: The high quality of the field at LIV Golf tournaments was apparent once again when, despite the wind picking up at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, six players shot better than 65 in the opening round of LIV Golf Jeddah.
The highest-ranked player in the field, world No. 3 Jon Rahm, shot a sparkling bogey-free eight-under par 62 to share the lead with Poland’s Adrian Meronk, who made seven birdies and an eagle.
Crushers GC Captain Bryson DeChambeau closed spectacularly with six birdies in his last seven holes in a round of seven-under par 63, which could have been even lower but for a double bogey and two three-putts. The American was joined in tied third place by South African Charl Schwartzel and the red-hot Joaquin Niemann of Chile.
Stingers GC Captain Louis Oosthuizen was the other player with a sub-65 round, making six birdies in his six-under 64.
Anthony Kim, the man in the spotlight as he made his return to professional golf after a hiatus of 12 years, opened with a 76 and was last in the 54-man field.
Reigning Masters champion Rahm started the day on the third hole and finished with three straight birdies on the 18th, first and second holes in what is his first visit to the Kingdom.
“Really good day. Drove it great. Anytime you shoot a bogey-free 62, there’s not much that goes wrong. I put it in the right spots and gave myself the opportunities,” said the Spaniard.
“The key to that low score was three lengthy putts I made. And I made pretty much every putt I looked at inside 10 feet.
“I feel like my record when I’m playing tournaments at a venue for the first time, has been pretty good for some reason. Sometimes, not knowing is a blessing.”
The Dubai-based Meronk, who is playing his first season on LIV Golf, made a bogey on his second hole of the day, but more than made up for it when he chipped in for an eagle on the par-4 10th hole from 35 yards.
“I’m feeling way better this week than my first two weeks (Mayakoba and Las Vegas). I had some quality practice time last week in Dubai. I’m happy where my game is, and it’s definitely a big difference from even Vegas a couple of weeks ago,” said Meronk, ranked 50th in the world.
Kim made one birdie in his round and showed his rustiness by topping his second shot of the day on the 18th hole, followed by a shank with his second shot on the seventh. However, his driving was very good all day, and his putting was on point the whole day.
“Obviously disappointed with the score, but I played much better than what I scored,” said the 38-year-old American. “I’ve got a lot to build on. Just made a lot of unforced errors, and that was unfortunate, but I feel like I’m not that far away.”
In the Team Championship, Rahm-led Legions XIII took the opening-day honors as Tyrrell Hatton (-5) and young Caleb Surratt (-4) pushed the team aggregate to 17-under, one shot better than the all-South African Stingers GC (-16).


Boutier delivers putting masterclass to grab Singapore LPGA lead

Boutier delivers putting masterclass to grab Singapore LPGA lead
Updated 01 March 2024
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Boutier delivers putting masterclass to grab Singapore LPGA lead

Boutier delivers putting masterclass to grab Singapore LPGA lead
  • Starting the day tied 30th, Boutier needed just 22 putts to navigate her way around the par-72 Tanjong course at Sentosa Golf Club and she heads into the weekend with a one-shot lead over Japan’s Ayaka Furue, who shot a 67
  • World No. 1 Lilia Vu struggled to a 74 to finish her round in a share of 21st place

SINGAPORE: France’s Celine Boutier delivered a putting masterclass to storm up the leaderboard with an 8-under par 64 and snatch the second round lead at the HSBC Women’s World Championship on Friday in Singapore.

Starting the day tied 30th, Boutier needed just 22 putts to navigate her way around the par-72 Tanjong course at Sentosa Golf Club and she heads into the weekend with a one-shot lead over Japan’s Ayaka Furue, who shot a 67.

Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom posted a 68 to take third place while overnight leader Sarah Schmelzel of the United States slipped to tied-fourth after carding a 72.

Boutier, a six-time LPGA winner, struggled on the opening day with a 73 but bounced back with eight birdies against no bogeys for a two-day total of 7-under par 137.

“I didn’t really make that many putts yesterday and came up pretty short,” said Boutier.

“But today I felt like I made everything. I putted to the right place and was not trying to be too indecisive.

“It was definitely less windy and I was able to get a good start with two birdies on the back, which is my front nine. That gave me a lot of confidence and I just kept going,” the 30-year-old added.

Boutier’s stellar round gave her watching father a birthday gift to remember.

“He was following me around today and I wanted to make it a point to play well. I wished him a happy birthday before my round and he was like, ‘You’ve got to get me a gift.’

“I hope he enjoys this one.”

Furue, who pipped Boutier to the Scottish Open title in 2022, will have the Frenchwoman for company again as they tee off together in the third round.

When asked if she was confident of outplaying Boutier again, she said: “She is a really good player. I just want to catch up with her and play good tomorrow. There’s no pressure at all.”

World No. 1 Lilia Vu struggled to a 74 to finish her round in a share of 21st place.

Defending champion Ko Jin-young is a further shot back in tied-27th after signing for a 73.


Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah

Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah
Updated 29 February 2024
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Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah

Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah
  • With Brooks Koepka eyeing a ‘three-peat,’ John Rahm makes first appearance in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: It is not an exaggeration to say that all eyes in the world of golf will be on LIV Golf Jeddah in Saudi Arabia this week.

The Public Investment Fund-backed league has done more than enough in the recent past to become one of the strongest tours in the world, but enticing Anthony Kim to return to professional golf is probably the coolest thing it has done so far.

It remains to be seen what sort of form the 38-year-old American will be in after his 12-year hiatus from the sport. He might take some time to get back into the groove but be prepared for the internet to go nuts if he has a good opening round on Friday.

Kim is the mystery man of golf, an almost mythical figure. His talent and his skills were unreal when he played regularly on the PGA Tour, winning three titles before he turned 25, but then he said goodbye to the game at the age of just 26.

Some have described his return to professional golf as being like “the resurfacing of the Loch Ness Monster,” others as a sighting of the golfing world’s “Yeti.”

Kim’s return to competition will certainly be one of the biggest storylines to follow during LIV Golf Jeddah this weekend, but here are six others that could ramp up the excitement at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

Jon Rahm’s first time in Saudi Arabia

World No. 3 Jon Rahm is the biggest signing in LIV Golf history and the mercurial Spaniard, a two-time major champion, including victory at last year’s Masters, is set to make his first appearance in Saudi Arabia this week.

Given the wind and length of the course at Royal Greens, and the peculiarities associated with a desert course, the venue should play right into Rahm’s hands. A phenomenal striker of the ball, he has spent the past decade based in Arizona and so is used to such conditions. He is also a two-time DP World Tour Championship winner in the neighboring UAE, on a similar style of course.

Koepka’s ‘three-peat’ attempt

Brooks Koepka, a five-time major champion, faced tough challenges to the last putt in Jeddah in 2022 and 2023, but emerged victorious from playoffs both times. He beat teammate Peter Uihlein in the inaugural season of LIV Golf, then got better of Talor Gooch last October.

The 33-year-old resident of West Palm Beach, who was the only LIV Golf player on last year’s Ryder Cup team, will be going for an unprecedented “three-peat” this week. Should he succeed, which is very much within the realms of possibility, it will set a hard-to-beat record in the relatively short history of LIV Golf so far.

The Crushers aim to bounce back

The 2023 Team Championship winners, the Bryson DeChambeau-led Crushers GC, have a point to prove in Saudi Arabia. They were cruising toward a team victory last year at Royal Greens, and DeChambeau looked like a lock for his third individual title of the season, when the unthinkable happened. The Crushers juggernaut came to a grinding halt during Sunday’s final round, they dropped to fourth place and DeChambeau slipped up to finish tied for 16th.

They will be keen to prove that the final round last year was nothing more than an aberration.

Niemann’s time to shine

Chile’s Joaquin Niemann is the LIV man in the news, having recently received a special invitation to play at this year’s Masters. It is just reward for all the chasing he has been doing lately, including victory in the Australian Open in December, fourth place in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic in January, and third in the International Series Oman last week. He also won LIV Golf Mayakoba this month, the season opener, which unfortunately did not earn him any world ranking points.

Niemann’s world-class talent is unquestionable and he is clearly fired up at the moment, which makes him a dangerous contender this week.

Saudi specialist DJ back in form

Koepka might be the flavor of the moment at Royal Greens thanks to his back-to-back LIV Golf wins there, but the original boss of the course is his close friend Dustin Johnson, two-time winner of the Saudi International there in 2019 and 2021, with a second place sandwiched between the victories. Even at the LIV Golf events in the past two years, his record is a respectable tie for fifth and a solo sixth place.

Now that the former world No. 1 has finally gotten over his short title drought with a win in Las Vegas this month, be prepared to perhaps see some fireworks once again from the big American.

The change of schedule

In 2022, Koepka won the tournament with a 12-under-par total, and finished on 14-under when he successfully defended his title last year.

A major change to the tournament this year, however, is that it is being played in the first week of March, when the conditions will much cooler compared with the October scheduling of previous years. Royal Greens will therefore feel like a different course, with changed wind directions and slightly softer greens. Expect the scores to be lower, therefore, unless the Red Sea has different ideas and starts blowing high winds towards the course.