Harold Varner III has made more eagles this LIV Golf League season than any other player. Thanks to his two on Friday at LIV Golf DC, the American now leads for the first time since becoming a member.
Fuelled by eagles at the par-four 9th and par-five 13th, Varner shot an eight-under 64 at Trump National Washington, DC, to take a two-stroke advantage over countryman James Piot.
Australian Cameron Smith, Chilean Mito Pereira and Americans Kevin Na and Andy Ogletree tied for third at four under.
Dean Burmester is the best-placed South African (T7) after a three-under 69 that included an eagle, four birdies and three bogies. Branden Grace is a further shot behind, followed by Louis Oosthuizen (one under) and Charl Schwartzel (even par).
Brooks Koepka, who won the fifth Major of his career at last week’s PGA Championship, shot an even-par 72, despite having little prep work after arriving onsite Thursday afternoon and dealing with a cracked driver for more than half of Friday’s round.
“It felt good just to play golf again, kind of get it out of the way,” said Koepka after celebrating his fifth Major win the last few days at home in South Florida. “I will hopefully play a little better the next few days knowing the golf course a little bit more.”
Two weeks ago at LIV Golf’s previous event in Tulsa, Varner tied a LIV Golf record low by shooting 61, a round that included two eagles. His two on Friday came in his first 10 holes, including his hole-out on the 9th hole. He now has 10 on the season.
“Holing out never gets old – and it makes it a lot easier,” said Varner. “You just want to have eagle looks, honestly. If you do that – I got lucky. I made some long ones in Tulsa, chipped in, but that’s part of it. I feel like I’ve been working on it.”
Varner had a slow start to the 2023 LIV Golf season, finishing outside the points (top 24) in his first two starts. Since then, he’s made steady improvement with each appearance – 19th in Orlando, 17th in Adelaide, ninth in Singapore and fourth in Tulsa, and now the first-round lead in DC.
“At the beginning of the year, I was kind of doing other stuff than playing golf,” he said. “If you just put your head down, I think good things happen. I want to play well. I don’t think I’m terrible at golf.”
The 24-year-old Piot has yet to record a points-producing top 24 finish this season. He entered this week 47th in the individual standings and knows the top 24 at the end of the regular season are guaranteed spots for next year, while the bottom four are subject to relegation.
“Yeah, it’s in the back of your head,” he said. “Obviously when it’s time to go, you’ve got to go. But at the same time for me, the goal is to keep getting better, keep improving.
“Obviously I would love to play on the LIV Tour as long as possible, but for me, as long as I keep improving, that’s really what I want to see right now. That’s my focus. Today was a good start, and hopefully we keep it going.”
– Edited report from LIV Golf website