While many on the East Coast of the United States were fast asleep, LIV Golf kicked off its sixth event of its inaugural season. The LIV Golf event in Bangkok started swimmingly at Stonehill Golf Course as bombers and plodders alike effectively maneuvered around the relatively brand new golf course built by Thai billionaire Sarath Ratanavadi.
Showcasing the depth of the field and wide range of age -- something LIV was heavily criticized for at first -- the youngest and one of the eldest members of the circuit find their names at the top of the leaderboard. It appears Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra has finally hit his stride as a professional after a bogey-free 7-under 65 in the first round in Bangkok.
The former No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Chacarra represents the type of golfer LIV Golf hopes to attract moving forward. Young, energetic, and relevant through previous amateur and collegiate play, the 22-year-old shares the lead with English journeyman Richard Bland and LIV Portland winner Branden Grace.
LIV CEO Greg Norman and Co. may secretly be hoping for a Chacarra triumph, but it will not come without some stress. Four-time major championship winner Brooks Koepka is not far off the pace after a 5-under 67 -- a welcomed sight for Smash GC fans. Koepka has struggled in his four prior LIV appearances and has yet to crack the top 10.
While Koepka hopes to break this dry spell, the current season-long points leader Dustin Johnson will have some work to do over the next 36 holes in order to keep his streak alive. The LIV Boston winner and captain of the 4 Aces is a perfect 5-for-5 finishing inside the top 10 and finds himself in a tie for 21st after signing for a 2-under 70.
Johnson and the rest of his 4 Aces squad are in unfamiliar territory as well as they sit 10th in the team competition. Arriving in Bangkok off four straight victories, they will need to track down Sergio Garcia's Fireballs if the dynasty is to stay afloat.
T1. Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, Richard Bland, Branden Grace (-7)
It is easy to forget how young some professional golfers are in this day and age as they burst onto the scene earlier and earlier each year. Chacarra is no different after experiencing a strong amateur and collegiate career at Oklahoma State. Joining LIV Golf in Portland, the Spaniard's team claimed a spot on the podium in dramatic fashion thanks to a 54th-hole birdie from Carlos Ortiz.
While there was joy and jubilation from the team's perspective, individually, Chacarra has struggled. Capturing a T21 result in Chicago -- his best result thus far -- perhaps Chacarra is finally beginning to settle his nerves and play in the same manner which he did in his amateur days.
"I've been struggling the first four weeks, just turned pro and nervous and all these guys, how good they are, and just trying to learn every week. I feel my game is getting better every week, and today I thought about what I was doing in college the last couple years when I had all the success, and I was just trying to play to not make bogeys," said Chacarra. "I cannot play with that stride today, and it definitely worked; I didn't make any bogeys. But like I say, these guys are really, really good. I'm trying to learn every week, so happy with my result, but still a long way to go."
T4. Marc Leishman, Ian Poulter (-6)
T6. Sihwan Kim, Jediah Morgan, Brooks Koepka, Harold Varner III, Kevin Na (-5)
T11. Graeme McDowell, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia (-4)
The three betting favorites are nowhere to be found in the top 20 of the leaderboard, giving way to a potential surprise winner in Bangkok. Johnson, Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann all struggled in the first round and are unlikely to seriously threaten without a massive effort on Day 2.
Poulter is a surprising name to find only one stroke off the lead. The Englishman is not necessarily the longest player in the world, and he has not played his best golf in recent months. His last top-10 finish came in January on the DP World Tour, but he may have found something in Bangkok and is a player to keep an eye on over the final 36 holes.
The elephant in the room
The Official World Golf Rankings are on the minds of players as the ruling committee reviews the merits of LIV Golf Bangkok from a world ranking points perspective. Whether it decides to award points retroactively through the MENA Tour remains to be seen, but that did not stop some players from letting their opinions known.
"They're delaying the inevitable," said Bryson DeChambeau. "We've hit every mark in their criteria, so for us not to get points is kind of crazy with having the top -- at least I believe we have the top players in the world.
"When they keep holding it back, they're going to just keep playing a waiting game where we're going to keep dropping down in the rankings to where our points won't ever matter," DeChambeau continued. "That's what they're trying to accomplish, and I hope that people can see right through that rather than believe the lies that they've been told. From my perspective, I think we deserve points."
Sergio Garcia, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Eugenio Chacarra
Richard Bland, Laurie Canter, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell
Sadom Kaewkanjana, Phachara Khongwatmai, Sihwan Kim, Kevin Na
Branden Grace, Shaun Norris, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel
Turk Petit, James Piot, Hudson Swafford, Harold Varner III
Sam Horsfield, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson
Chase Koepka, Peter Uihlein, Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak
Jediah Morgan, Hideto Tanihara, Scott Vincent, Joaquin Niemann
Matt Jones, Wade Ormsby, Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman
Talor Gooch, Dustin Johnson, Pat Perez, Patrick Reed
Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Casey, Charles Howell III, Anirban Lahiri
Bernd Wiesberger, Phil Mickelson, Matthew Wolff, Cameron Tringale