LAS VEGAS PREVIEW: TORQUE GC HOT ENTERING NEVADA
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Spearheaded by in-form captain Joaquin Niemann, Torque GC has made an electrifying start to the 2024 LIV Golf League and the Spanish-speaking combination has every reason to ooze confidence as it looks ahead to this week's LIV Golf Las Vegas.
Winners of a League-high four regular-season tournaments last year, Torque finished third in the team standings last week at the season-opening LIV Golf Mayakoba in Mexico where Niemann clinched the team's first ever individual LIV Golf title after a four-hole playoff with Sergio Garcia that ended in near-darkness.
As they prepare for Thursday's opening round at Las Vegas Country Club, Niemann and company will certainly fancy their chances of celebrating team success when the tournament ends on Saturday, a day earlier than usual due to Super Bowl LVIII, which will be played in Las Vegas on Sunday.
"We had a good finish," Niemann said of Torque GC's podium spot last week in Mexico where the team placed third at 17 under, behind Crushers GC (20 under) and the triumphant expansion team Legion XIII (24 under). "We were kind of outside the top six for much of the day, and then the guys started making some birdies and we ended up in the top three.
"Obviously it's a little bit harder with the format being the four scorecards," the 25-year-old from Chile added, referring to a new policy in the LIV Golf League this year. For the first time in the LIV Golf regular season, every score from every player will count toward their team's total score in the final round.
"We've got to play the four of us really good golf, so it was a good finish for the team," said Niemann. "But I think we've got a lot more to prove during the season, and it's nice to take that first win for individual as a team."
Niemann made an explosive start at Mayakoba by firing a spectacular 12-under 59 in the opening round and ended the week leading the field in both greens in regulation and total birdies while ranking second in fairways hit.
His Colombian teammate Sebastian Muñoz also performed well in Mexico, finishing up in a share of 13th place after his 17 birdies during the week tied Niemann for the most in the field. He also ranked joint fifth for greens in regulation.
An Achilles heel for Muñoz was his propensity for errors at Mayakoba where he totaled 10 bogeys and a double. If he can eliminate or even reduce those mistakes in Las Vegas, he is certainly more than capable of contending for his first individual LIV Golf title.
As for the other two Torque players, Mito Pereira finished in a tie for 43rd at Mayakoba with new signing Carlos Ortiz, who had a roller-coaster closing round that included five birdies, a bogey and triple-bogey at the par-5 fifth.
However, both Pereira and Ortiz played well enough in Mexico for Torque GC to lead the team standings after the first two days before slipping back into third spot.
As LIV Golf's first individual winner this season, Niemann is certainly the player to beat in Las Vegas. He has been in prime form over the past few months, finishing fifth (Australian PGA Championship), first (Australian Open), joint fourth (Dubai Desert Classic) and first (LIV Golf Mayakoba) in his last four starts worldwide.
"I've been playing great," said Niemann. "I have been really confident on the golf course and hitting my shots. I was more excited than anything to start this season, to start playing on LIV and start playing for my teammates. I was just excited to get started. And this (winning last week) is the best way to get started."
Niemann also has extra motivation for this year. With his world ranking having slipped to 74th, he does not automatically qualify for the four major championships.
"I have a different mindset for this year," he said. "It kind of hurt me a little bit not being in the majors and I think it also helped me to get motivation - to kind of earn my spot back into the majors, into the elite players ... to start working harder, to start working with a purpose.
"I think it's paying off, and I just want to keep telling myself that I'm capable of doing this, of winning tournaments, and this is a good way to prove that. I don't want to stop working the way I'm doing it. I just want to keep going."