NEW YORK: Talor Gooch rolled in a birdie bomb at the penultimate hole on Saturday to grab a one-stroke lead over Joaquin Niemann heading into the final round of the LIV Golf Invitational Boston.
America’s Gooch, who had top-10 finishes in the first three events of the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, had six birdies and a bogey in his five-under par 65 at International Golf Club and led the 48-man field on 12-under.
Niemann, one of six new recruits for this week’s tournament – a group led by second-ranked British Open champion Cameron Smith – also had six birdies and a bogey in a 65 that put him 11-under.
“It was an unbelievable round,” said Chile’s Niemann, who said Friday he had “a blast” playing his debut round in the series that promises “Golf, but louder” for what it insists will be a new wave of fans.
The upstart circuit has plunged the golf world into turmoil, with the established US PGA Tour and DP World Tour scrambling to prevent their star players from jumping ship to a circuit that offers massive purses of $25 million for it’s 54-hole events as well as reported signing bonuses for big-name players.
The signing of Australia’s Smith earlier this week was the biggest coup so far for the series, which has been accused of “sportswashing” Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Smith, one off the lead to start Saturday’s round, fired a one-under par 69 that featured a double bogey and two bogeys.
But the 29-year-old Aussie closed on a high note with an eagle at the 18th, set up by a second shot over a stand of trees straight toward the flag.
His seven-under total had him tied for eighth, five shots off the lead going into the final round.
Gooch used a methodical approach as he shook off an opening bogey to work his way to the lead.
“Out here it’s about hitting the fairways,” Gooch said. “I know for me I’m going to score better from the fairways. If that means laying back, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Gooch will be vying to become the first US winner of a LIV Golf event. Former world number one Dustin Johnson was also poised to strike for that title after a seven-under par 63 that put him third on 10-under.