Charl Schwartzel and Hennie du Plessis own the top two spots on the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational London leaderboard after Thursday’s first round at Centurion Club on Thursday.
Schwartzel shot a five-under 65 on the par-70 course, blistering Centurion’s back nine in six-under 30 to take the first-round lead. Du Plessis posted three birdies in a four-hole stretch early in his round to shoot four-under 66 and is solo second.
Not only did the two South Africans set the first-round pace in the individual stroke-play competition, their combined efforts allowed Stinger GC to take a commanding 6-shot lead in the team competition.
The 48 players were divided into four-man teams during Tuesday’s live draft. Stinger – a team captained by Louis Oosthuizen, who drafted all South Africans – is at nine under. Hy Flyers GC and Crushers GC are the closest pursuers at three under.
“It was very interesting,” Schwartzel said of the team aspect. “At one stage I saw three of our teammates, including Hennie and Branden Grace up at the top. You know, just a little bit of a different aspect to what we used to play. Now you’ve got individual and team.”
Schwartzel said on his 17th hole of his round (hole No 1), he had a five-foot putt for bogey and thought about the importance on the Stinger’s score.
“I knew my score was counting for the team,” he said. “I was more worried to make it for my team than I was worried for myself. Yeah, we were conscious of it and you could see the leaderboards.”
Du Plessis said he also was aware of how well Stinger GC was playing.
“You can see from the first hole, you can see what’s really going on,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this format. You can see what’s going on and it’s all happening at the same time, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Australian Scott Vincent (Smash GC) and Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai (Crushers GC) each shot 67, while South Africans Grace (Stinger) and Justin Harding (Hy Flyers) shot 68.
Multiple Major winners Phil Mickelson (Hy Flyers GC captain) and Dustin Johnson (4 Aces GC captain) were another stroke back at 69 along with England’s Sam Horsfield and Laurie Canter (both Majestics GC).
World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, a six-time Major winner, appeared in his first competitive golf event since February.
Starting his round on hole No 1, Mickelson played his first nine holes in two over before rallying on his back nine with three birdies in a four-hole stretch. He shot a one-under 69, the best score for Hy Flyers GC, the team he captains.
“I really enjoyed today,” said the 51-year-old. “It was fun for me to get back out playing. I struck the ball really well and didn’t putt very well. I really struggled with the putter … the first six, seven holes but I played really well and fought back after a double on 9 to shoot 1-under and get myself right in it on the first day.
“With the short format it’s important to have that good first day,” Mickelson added. “It’s harder; you don’t have as many days to catch up, but I needed a good day. I’m playing well and I feel like having my first competitive round now being back after a few months, I feel like I’m ready to relax and put it together and let it happen and not force it and really have a good round tomorrow. I feel like I’m playing well, and the putter started to feel better the second half of the round.”
Mickelson described the atmosphere at the Centurion Club as having “great energy.”
“It seemed awfully fun. The people were terrific, and it was fun to hit some good shots and get in a competitive frame of mind again. I really enjoyed it.”
– Report from LIV Golf website