In his LIV Golf debut, Jon Rahm finished third individually and led his team to first place in a tournament in Mayakoba, Mexico.
Rahm, the reigning Masters champion whose defection to LIV in December shook the golf world, moved into a tie for first late in Sunday’s final round but fell back with bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes.
Joaquin Niemann, who shot a 59 in Friday’s first round, went on to outlast Sergio Garcia in a four-hole playoff that ended in near-darkness. For their efforts, which included field-leading 54-hole scores of 12 under par, Niemann earned $4 million and Garcia $2.25 million.
Rahm made $1.25 million, as did Dean Burmester, a South African who tied the Spanish star for third at 10 under. Coming in fifth at 8 under was the big-name American trio of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Charles Howell III.
LIV added a 13th squad this year so Rahm could serve as its captain. The other three players who helped the newly formed Legion XIII win the team event by four strokes were Tyrrell Hatton, an Englishman and fellow Ryder Cup veteran who officially joined LIV on Tuesday, American Caleb Surratt and Zimbabwe’s Kieran Vincent. Surratt made his professional debut this week after leaving the University of Tennessee, for which he won the SEC individual title last year.
Rahm said after his round Sunday that he was “very proud” of his team, which he described as a “force to be reckoned with.”
“This team was just assembled, I believe, Sunday or Monday,” Rahm added, “and we come in and we made an impact. Everything was meant for that.”
A 29-year-old whose other major triumph came at the 2021 U.S. Open, Rahm has been the world’s No. 1 player as recently as last year and arrived in Mexico ranked No. 3. With LIV events still lacking eligibility for Official World Golf Ranking points, Rahm’s ranking is destined to fall this year, but unlike some of his new colleagues on the upstart circuit, his success while on the PGA Tour has assured him of being able to compete in each of golf’s four majors for several years to come.
When Rahm chose to leave golf’s long-established tour and join LIV, a third-year venture that has used backing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to make immediate inroads into the sport’s highest echelons, he said he “made this decision because I believe it’s the best for me and my family.”
Asked in December if money played a significant role in his decision, Rahm — who reportedly received a nine-figure contract from LIV — replied: “It’s one of the reasons, yeah. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. It’s definitely one of the reasons.”
After having been critical in the past of LIV’s format, which includes just 54 holes with shotgun starts and no cuts, Rahm said Friday that his opening round on the circuit was “quite fun.”
“The atmosphere is clearly very different, and I think it showed,” Rahm, who took advantage of his ability to wear shorts while playing for LIV, said after shooting a 5-under 66 on Friday. “I felt very relaxed out there. It is a little bit similar to how I play at home with my buddies, with music in the cart. It was pretty much a perfect day.”
Talor Gooch, another American whose 2023 season victory in the LIV series garnered him an $18 million bonus on top of the $17.3 million he made across 13 events last year, finished tied for 15th place Sunday.
The event in Mayakoba kicked off a 14-event LIV schedule this year, including season-ending individual and team championships for which there are currently no dates nor locations. Next week sees the series head north to Las Vegas, which will be the first of five scheduled events in the United States. Other stops will occur in far-flung locales including King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia; Hong Kong; Adelaide, Australia; Singapore; Sotogrande, Spain; and Rocester, England.
Niemann, a Chilean who played on the PGA Tour from 2018 until late in the 2022 season when he joined LIV, won his first title on the latter circuit. Along the way, he overcame a two-stroke penalty for an incorrect drop from a cart path during Saturday’s second round. That meant the four-shot lead he thought he was taking into Sunday was suddenly cut in half, and then he fell out of the lead entirely before a birdie at 16, in addition to late missteps by Rahm and Garcia, helped Niemann make a charge back to the top.
“I’m pretty happy that the day ended up this way, especially how the morning started,” said Niemann, whose Torque GC squad finished third. “I think dinner is going to taste a little bit better than breakfast.”
Rahm noted Sunday that LIV’s team format, another aspect in which it differs from the PGA Tour, gave him a welcome silver lining to his disappointing individual finish.
“It’s very nice,” Rahm said, “in a day in which in any normal tournament I probably would have been upset at my finish, to actually have something to celebrate. That is one of the big reasons why I decided to transition.”