OOSTHUIZEN LEADS BY EXAMPLE IN JEDDAH; STINGERS HUNT TEAM BYE FOR MIAMI
Stinger GC captain Louis Oosthuizen led the way for his team in the opening round of LIV Golf Jeddah presented by ROSHN, reeling off three consecutive birdies on the way to a three-under-par 67.
That left Oosthuizen just two strokes off the pace on the individual leaderboard after a challenging day of strengthening winds at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in the regular-season finale.
Next best for the all-South African Stingers was 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who fired an even 70, while long-hitting Dean Burmester returned a 1-over 71.
However, Brenden Grace, who arrived in Jeddah with a mathematical chance to finish in the bonus-paying third spot in the individual standings, made a disappointing start with a 2-over 72 that included five bogeys.
As a team, the Stingers remain in the hunt for a first-round bye for next week's Team Championship in Miami, but they did lose a bit of ground to RangeGoats GC in the opening round at Royal Greens.
For the LIV Golf Team Championship, teams will be seeded 1-12 based on the final regular season standings after Jeddah. The top four teams will receive a first-round bye in Miami and automatically qualify for Saturday’s semifinals. Teams seeded 5-12 will compete in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Defending champion 4Aces GC is the current points leader and the only team going into Jeddah that has already secured a first-round bye. The next four teams in the standings – No. 2 Crushers GC, No. 3 Torque GC, No. 4 Stinger GC and No. 5 RangeGoats GC – are vying for the final three byes.
"You need three guys to play well ... and I think the start is always crucial on that last day," said Oosthuizen. "But overall we've been playing well this season. We help each other out to try and get into form, and especially with Miami around the corner, we really want to give a good push to the end."
Oosthuizen certainly needed at least two of his teammates to emulate his sizzling form on day one in Jeddah. The 40-year-old from Mossel Bay parred his first three holes before going birdie-birdie-birdie on holes No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.
Although Oosthuizen made his only bogey of the day at the 13th, he immediately rebounded by sinking a 25-foot birdie putt from just off the green at the par-4 14th to get to 3-under. He then parred 15 to card a 67.
Oosthuizen, who has posted three top-10s in 12 LIV Golf starts this season, ended the opening round in Jeddah at the top of the greens in regulation charts with a percentage of 94 (after reaching 17/18). He ranked joint top with Crushers GC's Charles Howell III in fairways hit (with 12).
Schwartzel also had a good round going before he ended up bogeying two of his last three holes.
A birdie on his 13th hole of the day, the par-4 fifth, put the Stingers at 4-under overall and one ahead of the RangeGoats in the four-way race for the final three byes in Miami. Schwartzel also birdied the sixth and seventh, where he sank a six-footer, to get to 2 under before he slipped back with bogeys at the eighth and ninth.
While the Stingers may have lost some ground to the RangeGoats after day one, Oosthuizen is banking on his team's close bonds to spark a comeback over the last two rounds in Jeddah.
"I think we just gel really well together, not really get down on each other," said Oosthuizen. "If one of us has a bad round, we're quick to jump in and try and see what's going on, how can we help fixing a few problems. We're having fun together, and I think as a team, that's so important that you really gel."