This week in golf — The Zozo Championship, LIV Jeddah and more
The calendar might say October, but there’s still plenty of good golf being played around the world.
Tom Kim won again on the PGA Tour. Jodi Ewart Shadoff won for the first time in her 11-year LPGA career. And Dustin Johnson became $18 million richer by finishing 16th in a LIV Golf event in Thailand.
After a week in which Max Homa still owned Twitter, and golf fans around the world were probably doing something they never thought they would — googling the MENA Tour — the PGA Tour heads to Japan, LIV Golf visits its homeland of Saudi Arabia and the LPGA takes a break before playing in South Korea.
Here’s a look at what’s coming next in professional golf:
Where: Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, Chiba, Japan
Purse: $11 million
Defending champion: Hideki Matsuyama
Three storylines to watch:
Matsuyama goes home: Matsuyama, the 2020 Masters champion, is one of Japan’s most revered athletes after becoming the first Japanese man to win a major championship. He won the 2021 Zozo Championship by five shots with a final-round 65. He was plagued by back and neck injuries last season, but still managed to win twice and was solo fourth at the U.S. Open.
Schauffele’s return: Xander Schauffele, who is ranked sixth in the world, is the highest-ranked player in the field. He makes his return to Japan, where he won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. His mother was raised in Japan and his maternal grandparents live in Tokyo. He celebrated his Olympic victory with his grandparents by having in-room dining at the same hotel where he stayed for the Zozo Championship. Schauffele said his wife, Maya, was born in Okinawa, and they plan to visit her grandparents after the tournament. He plans to have dinner with about 30 family members on Tuesday night. “It will be nice to see all my grandparents, my uncles, aunts and my cousins,” Schauffele told reporters in Japan.
Japan is ready for @ZOZOChamp 🤩
The range on Monday was all packed for @XSchauffele. pic.twitter.com/bzUopWJmSB
Worldwide representation: The 78-man field includes 10 of the 12 players who competed on the International team at the Presidents Cup, as Matsuyama is joined by Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Corey Conners, Cam Davis, Sungjae Im, Si Woo Kim, Tom Kim, K.H. Lee, Sebastian Muñoz and Mito Pereira. The 72-hole event won’t have a cut (don’t tell LIV Golf).
LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah
Where: Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia
Purse: $25 million
Three storylines to watch:
Home game for LIV: The LIV Golf Invitational Series has been heavily criticized by some for being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, with 9/11 protestors at events and players facing questions about the monarchy’s history of human-rights violations. This week will look different with the regular-season finale is being played in King Abdullah Economic City, the largest privately funded city in the world, which is about two hours north of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. Royal Greens has hosted the Saudi International and Saudi Ladies International in the past.
Race for second and third: Two-time major championship winner Dustin Johnson has already wrapped up the individual title in the inaugural season of LIV Golf. He’ll collect another $18 million. Runner-up gets $8 million and third place gets $4 million. South Africa’s Branden Grace is in second place with 79 points. Patrick Reed is in third with 76 points, 20 points ahead of Cameron Smith, who has one victory and a fifth-place finish in two LIV starts. Winners are awarded 40 points, while runner-ups get 30.
Introducing your 2022 LIV Golf Individual Champion 🇺🇸🏆#LIVGolf pic.twitter.com/WCNHcBX7cK
Team race heats up: The top four teams in the points standings after Sunday’s final round in Saudi Arabia will receive a first-round bye in the $50 million LIV Golf team championship, which will be played at Trump National Doral Miami on Oct. 28-30. The 4 Aces (Johnson, Reed, Talor Gooch and Pat Perez) won four of six events and are assured of a first-round bye with 140 points. Bryson DeChambeau‘s Crushers are in second with 80 points, Louis Oosthuizen‘s Stinger GC is in third with 72, and Sergio Garcia‘s Fireballs are fourth with 69. Lee Westwood‘s Majestics are 10 points back from a bye.
BMW Ladies Championship
When: Oct. 20-23
Where: Oak Valley Country Club, Busan, South Korea
Purse: $2 million
Defending champion: Jin Young Ko
Three storylines to watch:
Korean dominance: Jin Young Ko rallied from a four-shot deficit in the final round to force a playoff and win the 2021 BMW Ladies Championship, the first event of the LPGA’s Asian swing. She became the second Korean-born player to win the event. Ha Na Jang won the inaugural event in 2019, and the championship was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ko’s victory was the 200th by a Korean-born player on the LPGA Tour.
Another first-time winner?: Parity currently reigns on the LPGA Tour, as England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff became the 24th different winner by claiming last week’s LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship. The most different winners in a single LPGA season is 26, which occurred in 1991 and 2018. Ewart Shadoff went wire-to-wire as the leader to win for the first time in her 246th event. She was the 10th first-time winner this season, which ties for second most in LPGA history. There were 11 first-time winners in 1995.
A monumental moment for this champion.
In her 246th start, @Jodi_Ewart earns her first LPGA win at the @MEDIHEALChamp. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/N4zFaECBEL
Up-and-comer: China’s Xiaowen Yin, 17, was among 10 players who earned their LPGA cards for next season by finishing in the top 10 of the Epson Tour money list. The season concluded Sunday with the final round of the Epson Tour Championship. Yin, who turns 18 in December, earned her card in late August. She travels to tournaments with her parents because of her youth.
Cameron Smith, winner of the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews, jumped back to No. 2 in the world on Monday, behind Scottie Scheffler. Smith, now playing on the LIV Golf circuit, swapped places with Rory McIlroy, who fell to third. Smith rose a spot, even though LIV golfers didn’t receive OWGR points in the first six events. LIV Golf formed an alliance with the little-known MENA Tour last week, creating what it believed was a loophole that would allow its players to receive points immediately, but the OWGR’s governing board said a ruling wouldn’t be made before this week’s event in Saudi Arabia. Here are some of the notables who moved up and down in the rankings this week.
Current rank: 21
Previous rank: 15
The South Korean continued his inspired play from the Presidents Cup with his second victory at the Shriners Children’s Open. He joins Tiger Woods as the only players to win twice on the PGA Tour before turning 21.
Tom Kim is the first player since Tiger Woods to earn two PGA TOUR wins before turning 21 years old. pic.twitter.com/cTUvjSFsdZ
Current rank: 35
Previous rank: 42
Hoge was the first-round leader in Las Vegas and tied for fourth, 4 shots behind Kim. He is 1-for-9 when holding an 18-hole lead or co-lead.
Current rank: 41
Previous rank: 49
Pereira, from Chile, is believed to be heading to the LIV Golf Invitational Series at some point. But he’s playing on the PGA Tour for now and tied for fourth in Las Vegas.
Si Woo Kim
Current rank: 73
Previous rank: 79
One had to wonder if Kim’s strong showing at the President’s Cup would jump-start his career. He tied for eighth at the Shriners Children’s Open, after recording just one top-10 in 29 Tour starts last season.
Current rank: 98
Previous rank: 162
NeSmith, from North Augusta, South Carolina, jumped a whopping 64 spots in the rankings after he tied for runner-up in Las Vegas, his best finish on Tour. NeSmith loves TPC Summerlin — he has 16 consecutive rounds in the 60’s in four starts.
Current rank: 24
Previous rank: 23
Johnson might have wrapped up the LIV Golf individual title with a 16th-place finish in Bangkok, but he continues to slide down the OWGR standings. He was No. 3 in the world at the end of 2021.
Current rank: 33
Previous rank: 32
The former world No. 1 golfer also continues to slide in the rankings after joining LIV Golf. It is the four-time major champion’s worst ranking since he was 34th at the end of the 2014 season, when he was playing on Tour as a non-member.
Current rank: 38
Previous rank: 34
Another LIV golfer, the South African was seventh in the world after tying for 17th at the 2021 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. He has four top-10s in five LIV Golf starts.
Current rank: 40
Previous rank: 37
The four-time Tour winner hasn’t made a start since the U.S. Open in June because of a back injury. He was ranked 13th in the world at the start of 2021.
Current rank: 1,206
Previous rank: 1,195
Woods, who was ranked No. 1 in the world for a record 683 weeks, played in only three majors last season after returning from serious injuries suffered in a car wreck in February 2021. His current ranking is seven spots lower than the previous worst in his storied career.
PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery is off to a sizzling start with three straight top-15 finishes in as many starts. The former UNLV player finished solo third at the season-opening Fortinet Championship, tied for ninth at the Sanderson Farms Championship and tied for 15th at the Shriners Children’s Open. Montgomery spoke to ESPN this week:
Q: What was it like playing in your hometown this past week?
A: It was nice. I grew up watching the tournament, so it was really cool to play in it. It’s obviously really nice to sleep in your own bed. After you leave the golf course, it’s like you go do the things you normally do. You’re not going back to a hotel room and watching movies. You actually get to go home, relax and hang out with your family.
Q: How much did the local knowledge help?
A: On this course, they redid all of the greens, and I felt like I struggled on them quite a bit. That’s probably the most putts I’ve missed inside 5 feet in the last three or four years I’ve had as a pro. They were tricky and they just haven’t settled yet. There were so many little breaks. When you look at the stats, everyone was having the same problem. They were just hard to read.
Q: What courses are you most looking forward to playing on the PGA Tour?
A: Definitely the West Coast swing at Hawaii and all of the courses in California. I really like Torrey Pines. I’m excited for that one.
Q: How much transition has there been for you going from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour?
A: To be honest, I think the Korn Ferry Tour does an amazing job of preparing you for the PGA Tour. Especially this past year, the courses we got to play were a great test. It feels exactly like a PGA Tour event. I know we haven’t played the hardest PGA courses, the last three that I’ve played, but I know Torrey Pines is a hard one, and I like that place. If you’re playing well and playing consistently on the Korn Ferry Tour, I think you’re going to do the same thing out here on the PGA Tour.
Q: Is it true that you weren’t even hitting a driver off the tee at one point in your college career?
A: I met my swing coach, Jon Sinclair of Dallas, Texas, about four or five years ago. I’ve always had a really good short game. I mean, I had to because I played from the trees my entire life. College was just so hard because I couldn’t hit a driver anywhere. I’d swing it 134 mph, but location-wise it could go 80 yards left, down the middle or 80 yards right. I’ve actually become a pretty good driver of the ball over the last couple of years. It’s really all [thanks] to Jon Sinclair’s help.
Q: What did Sinclair do to help you dial it in?
A: We changed a lot. I changed the way that I release the club. I used to flip the club, and I think that’s where I got all my speed. But I had no face control. That’s what Jon has helped me with. I never used to bow my wrist, but that has helped me with the way I release my club now. He never taught me to bow my wrist; it was more of a natural thing that I did because I felt like the other way was way too hard. It’s the swing that I kind of developed.
Q: Are you going to stay in Las Vegas?
A: I just bought my first house, and I think it’s going to be built in seven or eight months. I’ve been looking for a while, but houses have been so expensive in Las Vegas and everywhere. The last two or three starts definitely helped out with the house [Montgomery has won $889,375]. I’m staying with my parents right now.