Johnson surges into lead in LIV Tulsa, Cedar Ridge stands up despite conditions

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By Murray Evans
Photos by Bill Powell

BROKEN ARROW – On a day when Cedar Ridge Country Club figured to be at its most defenseless – no wind combined with soft, receptive greens and low rough – a high volume of low scores simply didn’t materialize Saturday at LIV Golf Tulsa.

The birdies certainly were there, but the course mostly held its own. Only five players in the 48-man field shot 63 or 64 and not surprisingly, three of those who went that low will be in the top four on the leaderboard for Sunday’s final round.

Former world No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson fired his second straight 7-under-par 63 to move to 14-under, giving him a two-shot lead over first-round leader Branden Grace of South Africa, who posted a 67. A pair of former major champions are third and fourth – Bubba Watson is third at 10-under after shooting a 64, and Bryson DeChambeau is fourth at 9-under following a bogey-free 63.

Branden Grace

Heavy rain fell in the Tulsa area in the early morning hours Saturday, softening the greens, and according to the National Weather Service, there was no wind blowing when the round began – and it never blew above 5 mph. But those conditions also presented golfers other problems that only a few could overcome, Watson said.

“They put pin locations in the right spots, make it tough, the ball is going to spin more,” Watson said. “Distance off the tee is going to be shorter. You’re going to have longer clubs into the holes. The impact of the ground with wet grass is always different, so yeah, no, this is just something that normally happens. It makes the – we were all hitting fairways, so it just made the distance different.”

Despite the seemingly pristine scoring conditions at Cedar Ridge during the first two rounds, 29 players are no better than 4-under, a testament to the quality of the course.

“Well, the superintendent in me hates the fact that the scores are so low,” said Eddie Roach Jr., Cedar Ridge’s superintendent. “However, the golf fan in me enjoys seeing some spectacular golf being played.

“We did everything within our power to provide fair, yet challenging, golf conditions. But unfortunately, Mother Nature has had other plans and the rain has definitely made it easier for low scores. As I said before, the only true test we have at this point is on the green surfaces themselves. They are putting about as pure as you could ask for.”

Johnson, the champion of LIV’s inaugural season in 2022, certainly would agree. He began the day two shots behind Grace, but quickly closed the gap with birdies on three of his first four holes to pull even.

The two remained within one shot of each other most of the rest of the round, until a late surge by Johnson. Grace’s first bogey of the tournament came on the par-3 No. 15, when his par putt stopped one revolution short of going into the hole. Johnson birdied the hole, putting him back ahead.

Johnson birdied and Grace bogeyed the par-4 No. 16, giving Johnson a three-shot cushion. Both birdied No. 17 before Johnson recorded his lone bogey on No. 18.

“I’ve been working on my putting every day for a long time,” Johnson said. “It’s just finally starting to click. Sometimes you’ve just got to keep grinding it out, but yeah, I’m starting to – I’m hitting them on my lines and making a few putts. That’s the key. You can make a few putts early, get some momentum, get confidence in the putter, and then it obviously helps out.”

While Grace and Johnson battled, Watson and DeChambeau made their charges. Watson birdied No. 8 and No. 9 and had some fun, announcing into a CW Network microphone that he’d just had two straight birdies. He had three in a row from No. 13 to No. 15 and closed with another at No. 2.

“I’m scared to death out there. It’s never gone,” Watson said. “Today I got off to a rough start, just thinking about things, focused on the wrong things. That’s what’s going to keep creeping in there. It’s crept in there for 15, 16 years when I was on the PGA Tour. It’s always going to be a battle for me, but the rust is definitely – I believe the rust is gone. Now it’s the shot making of knowing where to miss it and strategy on the golf course. You haven’t had it for nine months, so each day you’re gaining on it.”

DeChambeau started his round with a birdie at No. 14 and closed with a birdie at No. 13. While he made up ground on most of the rest of the field, he didn’t on Johnson.

“Yeah, you’re going to have to shoot – what am I, 9-under?” DeChambeau said. “Another 7-under, 8-under to have a good chance tomorrow. So I’ve got to come out guns a blazing, and no pun intended there, and I think hit fairways and greens and make some putts. That’s all we can do.”

The fourth player who shot 64 or under was former Oklahoma State standout Charles Howell III, whose 64 (which included seven birdies) vaulted him into a seven-way tie for ninth at 6-under. Also included in that group was another ex-OSU player, Matthew Wolfe, and former Oklahoma star Abraham Ancer.

In the team race, Johnson’s 4Aces made up a seven-shot deficit entering the day and, at 26-under, led Grace’s Stinger team by one shot. DeChambeau’s Crushers were at 22-under while Watson’s RangeGoats were at 20-under.

Sunday’s final round will begin at 12:05 p.m. with a shotgun start. Watson, Grace and Johnson will go off No. 1 tee at 12:16 p.m., following Brendan Steele, Cameron Smith and DeChambeau.

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