Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Dustin Johnson and Smash GC Take Home Titles at LIV Golf Las Vegas

Dustin Johnson and Smash GC Take Home Titles at LIV Golf Las Vegas
Montana Pritchard/LIV Golf

Smash GC’s dominant team performance in Saturday’s final round of LIV Golf Las Vegas allowed captain Brooks Koepka to celebrate his fifth trophy of any kind since joining LIV Golf, while teammate Talor Gooch became the first player to win trophies with three different teams.
 
But perhaps the most meaningful celebration came from Graeme McDowell, who joined Smash as a free-agent signee during the offseason. For the first time in his 24 starts in LIV Golf, G-Mac was able to enjoy popping champagne bottles on the podium.
 
“They keep handing me the trophy because I’ve never had one before,” said the 44-year-old McDowell.
 
The individual trophy went to someone who’s become quite familiar with celebrating a LIV Golf victory. Dustin Johnson birdied the par-4 17th Saturday to break a three-way tie and earn his third individual trophy and 10th overall as the captain of 4Aces GC.
 
Johnson shot a gritty final-round 1-under 69 to finish at 12 under, one shot better than Gooch and RangeGoats GC’s Peter Uihlein. Johnson was the only one of the three marquee players in the final group to break par, as Jon Rahm shot 71 and Bryson DeChambeau shot 74.
 
“It’s a great win, and obviously today was tough,” said Johnson, who now leads the Individual Championship race through the first two events. “I knew it was going to be tough obviously with the conditions.” 

Indeed, gusty winds and chilly conditions made the final round at Las Vegas Country Club as challenging as any since LIV Golf debuted in 2022. Just 17 of 54 players broke par, and the field stroke average was more than three strokes higher than the previous two rounds.

McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion from Northern Ireland, thrived in the tough conditions. His 5-under 65 was two strokes better than any other player, as he fueled Smash’s late surge on the final holes to break open a tight leaderboard.

“I’ve been living in Florida for about 15 years, but thankfully I still remember how to play in the wind,” said McDowell, the only player to produce a bogey-free round Saturday, missing just one fairway and three greens. “The game has really been trending for the last six months.”

With Gooch shooting 67 and Koepka and Jason Kokrak contributed 69s, Smash shot 10 under as a team. The other 12 teams were a cumulative 66 over.

First Place team champions Captain Brooks Koepka of Smash GC, Jason Kokrak of Smash GC, Graeme McDowell of Smash GC, Talor Gooch of Smash GC pose with the trophy after the final round of the LIV Golf Las Vegas (Photo by Montana Pritchard/LIV Golf)

It’s the kind of performance that Koepka envisioned when he overhauled his roster in the offseason, trading for Gooch – last year’s Individual Champion – and adding McDowell to solidify the roster and provide the kind of grit he felt his team was missing during a disappointing 2023 season.

“That was the plan, to bring in two guys that have experience, that know how to win, and to be in this situation where I feel like we’re competing every week,” Koepka said.

Johnson appears set to compete every week too after an inconsistent 2023 season. Although he won one individual title and two team trophies, he didn’t meet his own expectations and decided to ramp up his efforts coming into 2024.

“This year I’ve got a little more drive and determination because I don’t enjoy not playing well,” Johnson said.

At one point Saturday, six players were tied for the lead, but Johnson battled back from three bogeys midway through his round to produce three birdies in his last six holes – including the decisive one at the 17th.

“I figured if he birdied 17, it was pretty much his, but if he didn’t, I felt like I had a chance for a playoff,” said Uihlein. “He’s a stud for a reason.”

Top 5 Leaderboard

1. SMASH GC -33 (McDowell 65, Gooch 67, Koepka 69, Kokrak 69; Rd. 3 score: -10)
 
2. 4ACES GC -26 (Johnson 69, Perez 69, Varner III 70, Reed 72; Rd. 3 score: E)
 
3. RANGEGOATS GC -24 (Uihlein 68, Wolff 69, Watson 72, Pieters 73; Rd. 3 score: +2)
 
4. CRUSHERS GC -18 (Casey 68, Howell III 70, DeChambeau 74, Lahiri 74; Rd. 3 score: +6)
 
5. LEGION XIII -16 (Surratt 68, Hatton 70, Rahm 71, Vincent 74; Rd. 3 score: +3)

The next event on the LIV Golf schedule is LIV Golf Jeddah taking place between 1-3 March.