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Carlos Ortiz leads, Dustin Johnson 1 back at LIV Golf event at Pumpkin Ridge

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LIV Golf’s first event in the United States has a first-time player in the rival series at the top of its leaderboard.

Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, who was among the latest group of players to join the LIV Series earlier this week, shot a 5-under 67 to take a one-shot lead after the first round at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. in North Plains, Oregon.

Dustin Johnson, who at No. 17 in the world is the highest-ranked player on the LIV tour, is 1 shot behind Ortiz after a 68 that included five birdies to just one bogey.

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Ortiz, ranked No. 119 in the world, won the Houston Open in 2020 for his only victory on the PGA Tour. On Thursday, his 67 included seven birdies, including four on the first nine.

Also in the top 10 after Round 1 are Pat Perez (T-3, 69) and Brooks Koepka (T-6, 70). Both Americans are making their LIV debuts this week.

“You need to get off to a good start and obviously stick with it because there’s no stopping it,” Perez said of the 54-hole format. “I think every hit means a little bit more.”

Other notable scores from Day 1 action included par 72s from Matthew Wolff, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau making their tour debuts. Phil Mickelson shot 3-for-75 and is tied for 30th in a group that includes Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na and Lee Westwood.

This marks the second LIV event. The first, held outside of London earlier this month, was won by former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who pocketed $4.75 million for the victory.

The upstart series, spearheaded by CEO Greg Norman, aims to challenge the PGA Tour and has lured players with big signing bonuses and big prizes. But critics are calling the tour a “sports laundering” attempt to downplay Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, including the 2018 murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

On Thursday, about 10 family members and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks spoke at a small nearby park honoring veterans.

“This event is nothing more than a group of very talented athletes who seem to have turned their backs on the crime of murder,” said survivor Tim Frolich, who was injured in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

For golfers, part of the allure of LIV Golf is the money. In addition to hefty signing bonuses, the 48-man field competes for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition.

There is no cutoff and even the last place finisher wins a $120,000 payday.

Thursday’s leaders in the team portion were a Johnson-led group that included Perez, Reed and Talor Gooch. They were on 7 under.

Because the event was played on two courses, it was difficult to control the size of the crowd, and LIV Golf did not disclose attendance figures.

Mickelson, a six-time major winner and one of the tour’s main draws, had one of the biggest galleries on opening day.

The PGA Tour responded to LIV Golf’s challenge by suspending all active members who competed in the first LIV event. Those playing in Oregon will also be suspended unless they renounce their tour membership.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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