Grace lights up soft Cedar Ridge with 9-under 61, leads LIV Tulsa by two

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By Murray Evans
Photos by Rip Stell

BROKEN ARROW – Branden Grace is no stranger to shooting low scores, as he remains the only male golfer ever to have shot a 62 in a single round of a major tournament, doing so back in the third round of the 2017 British Open.

He went even lower on Friday in the opening round of LIV Golf Tulsa, posting a bogey-free, 9-under-par 61 – the lowest score in the history of the two-year-old tour. On an afternoon with little wind, high humidity, overcast skies and soft playing conditions at Cedar Ridge Country Club, the South African rolled in nine birdies, curling in his last one on his final hole, the par-3 No. 6.

Grace’s record round gave him a two-shot lead over Brendan Steele and Dustin Johnson, who was 1-over through six holes but had seven birdies after that, including five in a row from holes 13 to 17.

“Had a nice day,” Grace said. “Been working hard grinding it the last few days leading into this event, and just nice seeing the hard work pay off. Played really good from tee to green, was nice to see the putter warming up, and when those things happen, you free up and you just enjoy it. That was what it was today.”

Grace said he spent a couple of days with his coach at Sea Island in Georgia, working on his approach to LIV events.

“Just trying to work on the routines, not let bad things sneak to your head at certain times and things like that, and today was a really good day,” he said. “Managed to keep everything the way I should have, and it’s just nice hitting good shot after good shot and give yourself some opportunities, especially on a golf course like this.”

Cristie Kerr set the competitive course record at Cedar Ridge in the 2006 John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic, an LPGA Tour event, firing a 10-under-par 61. The course is playing at par 70 this week, so while there might be some debate about whether or not Grace tied Kerr’s mark, one thing is certain – 61 is an uber-impressive score on the 7,213-yard layout.

Talor Gooch

“That was pretty dang good,” said former Oklahoma State star Talor Gooch, who’s won the two most recent LIV tournaments. “So 61, if you really got it going just with how the winds weren’t heavy out there, the greens were receptive – dudes are good out here, so it can happen when you have these type of scoring conditions.”

Grace is seeking what would be his second LIV Tour win, as he won last year’s LIV Golf Invitational in Portland, Oregon, which was the first LIV Golf event held in the United States.

His 61 also staked his Stingers team – which also includes Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Dean Burmester – to a six-shot lead in that race, as their 17-under total was six better than the 11-under from the 4 Aces, led by Johnson. The Range Goats, led by Bubba Watson, were third at 10-under.

“Every time you can shoot low numbers, it’s good, and it’s nice to see the team playing well, as well,” Grace said. “It’s not just for me this week. It’s nice to see the guys pulling their weight, and seven shots ahead going into tomorrow is quite big, and I believe we can just keep this momentum going.”

Steele spent much of the round in the top five. He eagled the par-5 No. 5 before his only bogey of the day, on the par-4 No. 6. He had five birdies over his final 10 holes.

Johnson wasn’t a factor early, but soon enough, the former world No. 1-ranked player began rolling in birdie after birdie and steadily climbed the leaderboard.

Dustin Johnson tees off.

“I know I’m swinging well,” Johnson said. “Didn’t drive it well even though I’ve been driving it really good lately, just obviously drove it better after about 12, No. 12 or 13. Hit some really good drives coming down the stretch. But yeah, I was just kind of managing my game through those holes. When I did hit the fairway, I felt like I made birdies.”

Lurking another shot behind Johnson and Steele were reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia and Joaquin Niemann of Chile at 6-under. Another former major winner, Oosthuizen, was at 5-under.

Of the six players with Oklahoma ties in the field – five former players from Oklahoma State and one former player from the University of Oklahoma – only one was in the top 10. Former OSU standout Matthew Wolfe was tied for seventh at 4-under. The former Cowboys and the lone ex-Sooner, Abraham Ancer, both received plenty of crowd support. Many a fan yelled “Boomer” at Ancer, who often responded with a smile or a thumbs-up.

Gooch was tied for the lead early at 3-under, but fell back to even par before rallying for two late birdies. He’ll enter Saturday’s second round tied for 18th.

“I had some more nerves early than I expected, but it was a blast out there,” Gooch said. “We were talking about it all day. The fans were great, the crowd was awesome, the energy was great. The pressure I put on my state the last couple of tournaments when I’ve kind of called them out, they came through for us today.”

The course, softened by recent rains, took on a bit more water as a light shower fell briefly after the fifth hole. Before the round, a lift, clean and replace ruling was made, allowing players to clean their balls between shots if necessary.

“In order to keep things consistent for play, that decision was made by LIV Rules Officials prior to the start of the first round,” said Cedar Ridge course superintendent Eddie Roach Jr. “It’s based on potential for weather, which has not happened yet.”


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