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LIV Golf: Branden Grace wins at Pumpkin Ridge

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Branden Grace won the first stop of LIV Golf on American soil, an event that drew critics and protesters alike due to the upstart series’ funding from Saudi Arabia.

Grace closed out a 7-under 65 on Saturday to finish 13-under in the 54-hole tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. The 34-year-old South African won $4 million.

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The fledgling LIV series, spearheaded by CEO Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, aims to challenge the PGA Tour. He has lured some players, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, with the promise of big signing bonuses, big prizes and fewer events.

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Branden Grace, left, and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, right, pose with the trophy after Grace won the Portland Invitational LIV golf tournament in North Plains, Ore., on Saturday, July 2, 2022.

Branden Grace, left, and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, right, pose with the trophy after Grace won the Portland Invitational LIV golf tournament in North Plains, Ore., on Saturday, July 2, 2022.
(AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

Grace beat Mexican Carlos Ortiz by two strokes.

“I played golf flawlessly, I played very, very well when I needed to do something special and I pulled it off,” Grace said. “But what a great day, it was amazing to come here, this new format, this new everything is amazing and everyone here is having a great time.”

Ortiz, ranked No. 119 in the world, shot a 69. Johnson (71) finished four behind Patrick Reed (67).

The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition. There was no cutoff and even the last place finisher won a $120,000 payday. Charl Schwartzel won the opening event of the tour outside of London (and the team share) for $4.75 million.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, right, congratulates Branden Grace, winner of the Portland Invitational LIV Golf tournament in North Plains, Ore., on Saturday, July 2, 2022.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, right, congratulates Branden Grace, winner of the Portland Invitational LIV Golf tournament in North Plains, Ore., on Saturday, July 2, 2022.
(AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

The Four Aces team, led by Johnson, won the tag team competition at Pumpkin Ridge.

LIV Golf also announced on Saturday that English golfer Pat Casey has joined the series. Casey, 44, has won three times on the PGA Tour and 15 times on the European Tour, and is ranked No. 26 in the world. He hasn’t played a round of the tournament since March due to injuries.

The PGA Tour responded to the new tour by suspending all active members who competed in the first LIV event. Those who played in Oregon were also suspended unless they gave up their tour membership.

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LIV Golf has been dogged by critics since its inception, long before it arrived in tiny North Plains, about 20 miles west of downtown Portland.

Branden Grace hits a birdie chip shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the Portland Invitational LIV golf tournament in North Plains, Ore., on Saturday, July 2, 2022.

Branden Grace hits a birdie chip shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the Portland Invitational LIV golf tournament in North Plains, Ore., on Saturday, July 2, 2022.
(AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

The city’s mayor and 10 fellow mayors from nearby communities wrote to the Texas-based owner of the course weeks ago, objecting that the event did not align with community values ​​due to human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A group of families whose loved ones died in the 9/11 terrorist attack came to North Plains on the opening day of the tournament to protest the event. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day in 2001 were Saudi citizens. The group plans a larger rally for the next stop in Bedminster, New Jersey.

US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called the tour a “sports laundering” to downplay Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Wyden pointed to the 2016 hit-and-run death of 15-year-old Fallon Smart in Portland. A Saudi citizen was charged in the case but disappeared before trial, and US officials believe he was flown out of the country with the help of the Saudi government. A protester at the entrance on Friday held a sign that read “Fallon Smart, 2000-2016.”

Players faced tough questions before the tournament about their participation, with most rattling off snap answers and saying golf can be a “force for good.” Others complained about the structure and routine of the PGA Tour.

LIV Golf touts that it is “golf, but stronger.” In addition to simultaneous team competition, the tournaments feature shooting starts, interactive fan activities and hip-hop blaring on the driving range.

The crowds on Saturday were better than Thursday and Friday. LIV Golf said it was sold out but did not disclose the number of tickets sold.

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The next event on the tour is scheduled for July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Casey is expected to join at that time.

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