The clamor that ushered in the first American stop of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Series died down a bit on Friday, putting the spotlight on the game at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
Modest crowds and mild temperatures in the mid-70s welcomed players to the new series, funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is trying to shake up the PGA Tour. But there has been widespread criticism due to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses.
Dustin Johnson, the 2020 Masters winner, shared the lead with Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz ahead of the final round of the 54-hole tournament on Saturday. Johnson shot a 4-under 68 on Friday to get to 8-under.
“I’m very happy with the way I’m doing,” Johnson said. “Tomorrow, I just have to go and do the same thing, just drive on the fairway. I feel like I’m swinging my irons really well, so if I can get into the fairway, I’m going to get a lot of good stuff.” it looks. And obviously I’m shooting it well, too.”
Orrtiz birdied the final hole for a 69 to tie Johnson.
“I felt like I played really solid,” Ortiz said. “I put myself in a good position.”
A lone protester stood outside the gate of the club about 20 miles west of Portland, holding a sign that simply read “Fallon Smart 2000-2016.”
Smart was 15 years old when she was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Portland. A Saudi citizen attending school in Oregon was charged with her death, but she removed a monitoring device before the start of her trial and disappeared. US officials believe the Saudi government helped lure him away from her.
The atmosphere inside Pumpkin Ridge was light, with jugglers and other entertainment, interactive activities for fans, and food carts offering a variety of cuisines. Organizers did not announce attendance figures but said tickets for Saturday’s final round were sold out.
Branden Grace was two shots behind the leaders at 6-under after a 69. Justin Harding was 5-under after a 67, the best score of the day among 48 players.
Johnson had the biggest galleries, along with Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, all major winners who have joined the new company headed by CEO Greg Norman.
Koepka, the world No. 19, is playing in his first LIV event after announcing his commitment to the tour last week. He is 4 shots behind after a second-round 70 and tied for fifth in a group that includes Louis Oosthuizen (71-69) and Patrick Reed (72-68).
DeChambeau’s 69 on Friday was three shots better than his first round, and he is tied for 10th at 3-under.
Mickelson continued to struggle and is at 5 over (72-73), tied for 34th in the 48-player field.
The PGA Tour has responded to LIV Golf’s challenge by suspending all active members who competed in the first LIV event. Those who played in Oregon were suspended unless they gave up their tour membership.
A big draw for LIV golfers is 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. That is being led this week by the 4 ACES GC quartet of Johnson, Reed, Pat Perez and Talor Gooch.
Charl Schwartzel won the London event (and the team portion) for $4.75 million.
There is no cutoff and even the last place finisher wins a $120,000 payday.
Critics say the tour is a sports wash, using golf to downplay Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, including the 2018 murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On Thursday, a group of families who lost loved ones on 9/11 protested the tournament. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day in 2001 were Saudi citizens.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.