A tournament that started out by creating a fundamental schism in world golf ended with Charl Schwartzel securing the world’s richest ever individual prize, with the South African pocketing $4m after winning the inaugural event of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series held at Centurion Club in Hertfordshire.
Schwartzel, who famously won the Masters back in 2011, has endured a tough time of late, having not won since 2016 and with a wrist injury causing him to slip down the world rankings to his current position of 117th. He has missed seven cuts in the 10 events he has played so far in 2022, but an eighth-place finish at last month’s AT&T Championship on the PGA Tour pointed to a return to better times.
However, none of that will overly bother the Johannesburg-born 37-year-old, who left Centurion $4.75m the richer after he combined with three fellow South Africans – Hennie Du Plessis, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen – to also win the $3m prize for the top team. Combined with his individual prize, the huge haul represents almost a quarter of Schwartzel’s entire earnings from a 20-year professional career that has yeilded 16 wins across five different tours.
“I really wanted to win again,” Schwartzel, who led the tournament from start to finish, with rounds of 65, 66 and 72, all of which added up to 7-under-par total for 54 holes. “I worked very hard the last few years and there have been signs of good golf, but I just haven’t really been able to be in contention.”
“I hit a wayward shot on 12 and it sort of derailed me,” Schwartzel added. “And from there on it was just a question of trying to hang in there. Hennie was playing some really good golf, hitting good shots and putting pressure on me, but I was just able to hold on and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out today.”
Leading by three shots entering the final round, Schwartzel extended his advantage by five shots on the front nine before a double-bogey at the par-4 12th gave the chasing pack a glimmer of hope. But Schwartzel bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 13th to restore a lead that enabled him to be able to bogey the final hole and cling on for a one-shot win over Du Plessis, who had the consolation of winning $2.125m for finishing second – prize that eclipses that of the winner of next month’s 150th Open Championship. He also picked a further $750,000 as a member of Stingers, which won the team competition by 14 shots.
Branden Grace, another Stingers player, shot a closing 65 to claim the third place on countback from Peter Uihlein, although both players banked $1.275m. England’s Sam Horsfield, who briefly held sole second place mid-way through the final round, slipped back to finish fifth, although his $975,000 prize dwarfs the €327,000 he picked up for winning last month’s Soudal Open on the DP World Tour.
The tournament’s two biggest stars, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, who have reportedly been given $125m and $160m respectively by the Saudi Public Investment Fund to play on the LIV Golf Series for the next two years, finished eighth and tied 33rd, with Mickelson shooting a closing four-over-par 76. His $158,000 share of the $20m prize fund, will feel like small change.
The two amateurs in the field, 15-year-old Thai TK Chantananuwat and 20-year-old Spaniard David Puig, finished 38th and 41st respectively, but were unable to collect their prize money due to their non-professional status. Instead, they both were given the maximum $1,000 allowable under the rules, with the remaining $270,000 donated to charity.
The final day’s play was watched by a crowd of 8,000 spectators, although very few had paid for full price their tickets, with the organisers having to quickly react to fans baulking at the £67 pre-tournament price to watch one days’ play.
“All I can I say is that the evolution of golf has arrived,” said Greg Norman, LIV Golf’s chief executive and commissioner in his speech at the closing ceremony. “They tried to squash us, but they couldn’t do it. The fans spoke and said they wanted team golf and to see the way the players have reacted brings a new energy to the game of golf. We have a tremendous future ahead of us, trust me.”
The next LIV Golf Invitational event tees off at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon on June 30, where Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Pat Perez and Bubba Watson are understood to be new additions to the line-up.