BEDMINSTER, NJ (AP) — Henrik Stenson had a happy return to golf after being removed as European Ryder Cup captain, making eight birdies in his LIV Golf Invitational debut at Bedminster for a 7-under 64 to share the 18-hole lead with Patrick Reed.
Phil Mickelson’s return to the area wasn’t entirely happy.
As he was teeing off at Trump National Bedminster, a spectator yelled out, “Do it for the Saudi royal family!”
Mickelson is immensely popular in the New York area, winning a PGA Championship at nearby Baltusrol and finishing as a runner-up four times at US Opens in New York. He is now seen as the chief recruiter for Greg Norman and the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series. He sat out four months earlier this year after disparaging remarks about the Saudis and the PGA Tour.
“I think I’ve always enjoyed playing in this area. We had a great day afterwards,” Mickelson said. “I thought it was a good day all around. I didn’t really think much of it.”
The rest of his day did not get much better, particularly the end. He missed a 12-foot birdie putt on his final hole, then ran the 3-footer for par some 6 feet by the hole.
“I’ll wait,” he said, and then realizing he was farthest from the hole added, “Is it still me?”
He made that for a bogey-bogey finish and a 75.
Former President Donald Trump, who played the pro-am on Thursday at his home course, returned to watch the first round.
Stenson was among four new players added to the 48-man field for the third LIV Golf event. He had pledged full support to the European tour in March when he accepted the Ryder Cup captain’s job, and then signed on with LIV Golf for a fee reported to be about $50 million.
The tour stripped him of his job last week when LIV Golf announced his signing.
“It’s nice to be out there playing golf,” Stenson said. “And yeah, of course it’s been a busy couple of weeks and not the most fun, but we keep our head down and focus on the golf. Just very pleased to have the ability to go out there and do that and play such a solid round.
“It’s the best I’ve played all year, and I’ll take a lot of credit from that.”
Reed also had a 64 in his second LIV Golf event. His round featured six birdies in a seven-hole stretch during the shotgun start.
Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand had a 66, while Dustin Johnson and Carlos Ortiz each had a 67 and were three shots behind.
Charles Howell III (68) and Jason Kokrak (69) also made LIV Golf debuts, while the fourth addition, Paul Casey, had a 73.
The 54-hole event with no cut pays $4 million to the winner, while the top three teams play for a $5 million purse.
After opening with a 69 in the first LIV event outside London, Mickelson has posted either 75 or 76 in his subsequent six rounds.
“I’m just a little frustrated with my game, to be honest,” Mickelson said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s going off. I don’t feel lost, I’m just not scoring. To three-putt the last two holes with makeable birdies, I’m just frustrated because I expect more from myself. I’m going to work on it until I get it fixed.”
LIV Golf announced Friday that two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson would be joining the series in 2023. Watson, who is No. 86 in the world, has been recovering from knee surgery and said he would not be ready to compete until October.
The series has three final events in October in Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Miami. Watson will be non-playing captain on a team at the next stop outside Boston in early September and will contribute to streaming commentary.
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