Charl Schwartzel and his Stinger GC teammate Hennie du Plessis own the top two spots on the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational London leaderboard after Thursday’s first round at Centurion Club.
Schwartzel shot a 5-under 65 on the par-70 course, blistering Centurion’s back nine in 6-under 30 to take the first-round lead. Du Plessis posted three birdies in a four-hole stretch early in his round to shoot 4-under 66 and is alone in 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 six-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 9 under. Hy Flyers and Crushers are the closest pursuers at 3 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.”
Australian Scott Vincent and Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai each shot 67, while Branden Grace and Justin Harding both went round Centurion in 68.
Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were another stroke back at 69 along with England’s Sam Horsfield and Laurie Canter.
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 1-under 69, the best score for Hy Flyers, the team he captains.
“I really enjoyed today,” said the 51-year-old Mickelson. “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.”
In addition to the individual stroke-play competition, players are also competing as four-man teams during LIV Golf events. The best two scores in Round 1, the best two scores in Round 2, and the best three scores in Round 3 will combine to produce the team score.
Here is the leaderboard and the counting scores from Thursday’s first round:
1. STINGER GC (-9) – Charl Schwartzel 65, Hennie du Plessis 66
T-2. HY FLYERS GC (-3) – Justin Harding 68, Phil Mickelson 69
T-2. CRUSHERS GC (-3) – Phachara Khongwatmai 67, Peter Uihlein 70
4. MAJESTICKS GC (-2) – Sam Horsfield 69, Laurie Canter 69
5. 4 ACES GC (-1) – Dustin Johnson 69, Oliver Bekker 70
6. SMASH GC (E) – Scott Vincent 67, Jinichiro Kozuma 73
T-7. TORQUE GC (+1) – Adrian Otaegui 70, Talor Gooch 71
T-7. IRON HEADS GC (+1) – Hideto Tanihara 70, Viraj Madappa 71
9. FIREBALLS GC (+2) – Sergio Garcia 71, James Piot 71
10. CLEEKS GC (+3) – Ian Snyman 71, Pablo Larrazabal 72
11. PUNCH GC (+4) – Wade Ormsby 71, Ryosuke Kinoshita 73
12. NIBLICKS GC (+7) – Oliver Fisher 73, Graeme McDowell 74