Golf: Grace fires 65 to claim first LIV event in US, Casey latest to sign up for 'rebel' series

South African Branden Grace vaulted past 36-hole leaders Carlos Ortiz and Dustin Johnson for the victory. PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - South African Branden Grace rallied by shooting a seven-under 65 on Saturday (July 2) to win the LIV Golf Invitational Portland in North Plains, Oregon.

The 34-year-old vaulted past 36-hole leaders Carlos Ortiz (third-round 69) and Dustin Johnson (71) for the victory. Patrick Reed shot 67 to finish joint third with fellow American and two-time Major winner Johnson.

Grace ended at 13-under 203, two shots better than Mexican Ortiz.

He opened with three birdies against one bogey on the front nine before catching fire on the back nine; he carded five birdies on the final nine to earn the title.

He started the round two shots behind Ortiz.

Another South African Louis Oosthuizen shot 69 to finish in solo fifth on 209, two behind Reed and Johnson.

The 4 Aces team of Johnson, Reed, Pat Perez and Talor Gooch won the team event.

LIV events feature 48 players, last just three rounds and have no cuts.

Portland marked the Saudi-funded league's second tournament and first on US soil. South Africa's Charl Schwartzel captured the LIV opener in mid-June near London.

Meanwhile, Paul Casey has joined the lucrative and controversial series and will compete at its event at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey later this month, the league said on Saturday.

The 44-year-old Englishman is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and 15-time winner on the European Tour but has not played since March due to injury.

He joins a list of top players including six-time Major champion Phil Mickelson, former world No. 1s Johnson and Brooks Koepka and former US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau who have joined the upstart league.

"LIV Golf continues to attract the best players in the sport as it builds increasingly competitive fields with each event," LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said in a statement.

Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), LIV Golf held its first event last month won by Schwartzel, who pocketed the US$4 million (S$5.6 million) prize - the biggest pay cheque in golf history.

Critics say the breakaway series amounts to blatant "sportswashing" by a nation trying to improve its reputation in light of its history of human rights abuses.

The start of the three-day tournament at Pumpkin Ridge was met with a protest by 9/11 survivors and victims' families who criticised the golfers for their willingness to play in the league.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers of jet planes on Sept 11, 2001 were Saudi nationals. Family members of victims have sought a probe of their suspicions that Saudi Arabia was linked to the hijackers.

In September 2021, the Saudi government welcomed the release of classified documents related to an FBI probe and the country's US embassy said that "any allegation that Saudi Arabia is complicit in the Sept 11 attacks is categorically false".

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