SUGAR GROVE, Ill. (LIV Golf) — LIV Golf is back after a five-week break. Who’ll be able to shake off the rust at LIV Golf Chicago?
Actually, for half the field, there’s not as much rust as you might think. Of the 48 LIV Golf regulars at Rich Harvest Farms, 24 competed in at least one of the two recent International Series tournaments in the U.K., including St. Andrews Bay winner Eugenio Chacarra, who outlasted fellow LIV golfer Matt Jones in an epic 10-hole playoff.
If any player in Chicago is allowed to be rusty, it’s Majesticks GC’s Sam Horsfield, who return to competition after missing nearly five months due to hip surgery.
Speaking of returning, LIV Golf makes a return visit to Rich Harvest Farms, which hosted an event last year during the inaugural season. While the course has a slightly different routing – last year’s third hole is now the new party hole 17th – familiarity could play a role in the outcome.
With that in mind, here’s the top five players and top four teams going into Friday’s opening round:
1. Cameron Smith (Ripper GC): He’s the defending champion in Chicago. He’s in great form, having won two of his last three LIV Golf starts. He’s the logical choice. And if he wins this week, he might wrap up the season-long Individual Champion trophy, so incentive!
2. Bryson DeChambeau (Crushers GC): He tied for eighth last year when his game wasn’t in nearly as good a shape as it now. He followed his historic win in Greenbrier with an 18th-point finish in Bedminster. Based on recent rollercoaster results, this should be one of his really good weeks.
3. Patrick Reed (4Aces GC): His last four LIV starts include a 5th (Andalucia), 2nd (London), and 4th (Bedminster). It’s a broken record, but he’s overdue for a LIV win. Finished T12 last year but shot 7 under on the weekend to finish on a positive note.
4. Joaquin Niemann (Torque GC): Not sure how much golf he played during the break, but he did accomplish something pretty noteworthy by getting married earlier this month. Finished seventh in Bedminster in his latest start and tied for 4th in Chicago last year.
5. Dean Burmester (Stinger GC): Wasn’t a part of LIV Golf last year, so getting his first look at Rich Harvest Farms this week. His last four worldwide starts are 8th, 5th, T16th, and 7th, so he’s playing consistent golf.
OTHERS CONSIDERED: Talor Gooch is Smith’s closest competitor in the points race, so he has plenty of incentive to outperform the Ripper captain. Anirban Lahiri was second in Bedminster and played well overseas, but didn’t finish in the points last season in Chicago. Dustin Johnson and Peter Uihlein tied for second last year but haven’t been in top form lately.
1. Crushers GC: Wouldn’t be a surprise if DeChambeau and Lahiri are battling for the individual title on Sunday. The Crushers have finished second in each of the last two tournaments and are desperately seeking a return to the top of the podium.
2. Stinger GC: The South Africans have three consecutive third-place finishes and six podium results this season. Battling various injuries this season, the five-week break provided much-needed time to heal.
3. Ripper GC: Finally breaking through with their first team win in Bedminster, the Aussies are making serious noise. Jones comes off the heartbreaking playoff loss at St. Andrews Bay, and Marc Leishman has top-10 finishes in two of his last three LIV starts.
4. 4Aces GC: After claiming five podiums in the first six events of 2023, the Aces have just one in their last five starts. They’re the defending team champs in Chicago, so maybe good vibes will get them back on track.
OTHERS CONSIDERED: Torque GC has a league-leading four team wins, but remains in second place in points due to inconsistent finishes in their other starts. HyFlyers GC has finished top five in the last two events, and captain Phil Mickelson played well last year in Chicago.