MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Marc Leishman hit a series of long birdie putts and even a few big putts for par to post a 6-under 65 for a one-shot lead Friday in the LIV Golf League in the high desert of Arizona. .
LIV Golf’s second event of the season is at The Gallery in north Tucson, where the old Match Play Championship was held for two years.
For stroke play, the undulating greens and pins tucked into the crowns made it difficult to find birdies in places. That wasn’t a problem for Leishman. The Australian scored from 20 feet on 14, from the same range on 16 and then putt 40 feet at number 3.
He also made a par 12-footer in the No. 4. With only one bogey on his card, he led Abraham Ancer, Louis Oosthuizen and Matthew Wolff by one stroke.
Charles Howell III, who opened LIV’s second season with a win at Mayakoba three weeks ago, had one of the best results. He opened with a double bogey and was 3 over after four holes, only to respond with four straight birdies. He finished with a 69.
“I held my own very well,” Howell said. “You are at altitude, the pins are on the edges of the slopes, it is difficult to get the ball closer. Birdies are not easy.”
Howell is one of eight players who previously played at The Gallery when it was a World Golf Championship event in 2007 and 2008. Henrik Stenson won in 2007 and lost in the semi-finals to Tiger Woods the following year before moving to a different course in Dove Mountain.
Stroke play was not so kind to Stenson. He was up 4 after seven holes and had to rally with four birdies the rest of the way for a 73.
Dustin Johnson also got off to a rocky start with a tee shot into the desert for double bogey at No. 2, his opening holeshot at shotgun start and another double bogey at No. 7. He finished with three straight birdies from close range. for a 73.
Joaquin Niemann, Peter Uihlein and David Puig, who signed with LIV Golf of Arizona State, were each 67 years old. The group of 68 included Sergio Garcia and Pat Perez.
Niemann and Puig each play for Torque, who had a one-shot lead in tag team competition over Smash and Iron Heads.
World No. 5 Cameron Smith, the highest-ranked player with LIV Golf, struggled with his tee shots in the high desert. He rallied with three straight birdies late in his round, only to hit another wild drive on the 18th hole for bogey and a 71.
Thirty of the 48 players on the field broke par. That included Phil Mickelson (70) and Laurie Canter (70), who again filled in for Martin Kaymer while the German recovers from injury.
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