CHICAGO - Reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia won his first LIV Golf title on Sunday (Sept 18), holding off Dustin Johnson and Peter Uihlein down the stretch to win the Chicago Invitational.
The 29-year-old from Brisbane fired a three-under 69 to finish on 13-under 203 in the 54-hole shotgun start event at Rich Harvest Farms. He was one of 12 Major champions in the 48-player field.
World No. 3 Smith finished with back-to-back birdies, the last from 20 feet, to defeat two-time Major winner Johnson and Uihlein by three strokes.
Nine weeks after capturing the Claret Jug at St Andrews, the Australian said he needed a victory to send a message to critics of his decision to jump from the PGA Tour to the Saudi-backed upstart series.
"I had to prove to myself and some other people that I'm a great player, that I'm out here to win golf tournaments," he said.
The stage was set for a final-round duel between two of the world's best golfers as overnight leader Smith began the day two shots clear of playing partner Johnson (70), who fell three shots back after a bogey at the first hole.
Both players birdied the second but Smith bogeyed the fourth and sixth as his American rival got to within a stroke before the duo carded birdies at the par-five seventh.
Smith opened up a three-shot lead with a birdie at the par-four eighth, where Johnson carded the first of two consecutive bogeys to reach the turn four back and his hopes of becoming the first multiple winner on the LIV Golf series all but dashed.
Uihlein (69) got into the mix and was briefly one shot back of Smith, who was cruising along the back nine until a bogey at the par-three 16th, but the Australian reached the 18th three shots clear after a birdie at the penultimate hole coupled with a late Uihlein bogey.
"Proud of how I hung in there today," said Smith. "Didn't really have my best stuff the first eight or nine holes but stuck it tough and made a few good putts coming in. It was nice."
He chipped within inches of the hole and tapped in for birdie at the par-five 11th. He took a bogey at the par-three 16th, lipping out on a short par putt, but denied his US rivals with his closing birdies.
"A little disappointed in the way I played," said Johnson, who shot 70. "I hit a lot of good putts. Just nothing would go in the hole."
LIV Golf's record prize money has helped lure several big-name PGA Tour defections, prompting the US-based Tour to issue indefinite bans on former members and spark an antitrust lawsuit in the United States set for trial in 2024.
Smith is the highest-ranked player to join LIV Golf to date and finished fourth in his debut two weeks ago in Boston, where he missed out on a three-man playoff by one shot after a bogey on his penultimate hole. His departure was a big blow for the PGA Tour, where he had won the Tournament of Champions in January, The Players Championship in March and his first Major title in July at St Andrews.
The Australian added a US$4 million (S$5.63 million) LIV Golf top prize from a US$25 million purse to a 2022 riches haul that includes US$1.47 million for the Tournament of Champions win, US$3.6 million at the Players and US$2.5 million at the Open.
While Johnson could not catch Smith, he did help his 4 Aces team-mates Patrick Reed, Talor Gooch and Pat Perez to victory in the team competition as the squad split a US$3 million first-place prize for the fourth consecutive event. AFP, REUTERS