WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Brooks Koepka has 16 professional wins in eight different countries, but he’s never won an elite event in his home state of Florida.
That could change Sunday at LIV Golf Orlando.
Koepka, the Smash GC captain, shot his second consecutive 6-under 65 to grab the 36-hole individual lead at 12 under at Orange County National. He’ll take a three-shot lead over Torque GC’s Sebastián Muñoz, the first-round leader who followed his record-tying 62 with an even-par 71. Three players – Laurie Canter (Cleeks GC), Mito Pereira (Torque GC) and Patrick Reed (4Aces GC) – are at 8 under.
Fueled by Koepka, Smash leads the team competition at 26 under, two shots ahead of Torque, with Cleeks another three shots back at 21 under.
Koepka, who grew up in the West Palm Beach area, played collegiately at Florida State, and currently lives in South Florida, wasn’t sure of the last time he won a golf tournament in the state.
“Probably a minor league golf event I remember playing in like 2012, 2013,” he said.
His family is attending LIV Golf Orlando this week, cheering for both Brooks and his younger brother Chase, who also plays for Smash. It could be a big celebration if Brooks and his team can claim both trophies on Sunday.
Smash GC featuring Koepka and his brother, Chase, enters Sunday atop the team leaderboard (Photo by Scott Taetsch/LIV Golf)
“They’ve got to be loving it, right?” Koepka said of his family. “I’ll speak for me, it’s pretty cool to have my brother, playing alongside him, being able to go do practice rounds, playing an event with him, seeing all the behind-the-scenes stuff that you guys might not see all the time and be able to spend more time with him, more QT. I think that’s been a big thing. It’s been pretty dope.”
Koepka will also be seeking his second LIV Golf individual title, having won last year in a playoff against then-teammate Peter Uihlein in the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah. Including the 2022 Invitational Series, the first nine regular-season events in LIV Golf’s young history have been won by nine different players, so Koepka is in position to be the first individual to celebrate a second time atop the podium.
“It’s kind of tough to have multiple wins in nine events,” Koepka said. “If you do, you’re doing something right.”
Muñoz was one of 18 players in the 48-player field who did not break par Saturday. He realizes how difficult it is to back up a low round with another one, especially in the windy conditions offered by the Crooked Cat course. Despite the even-par score, he remains in contention in just his third LIV Golf start.
“I felt like my ball-striking was the same as yesterday,” Muñoz said. “I might have hit a few less fairways. Putts didn’t go in, and that’s a nine-shot difference. Pretty crazy.”
Canter is making his third start as a reserve player filling in for Cleeks GC Captain Martin Kaymer, who is close to returning from offseason wrist surgery.
“I kind of look at it like if this is the last LIV event I ever play, then it’s been awesome,” Canter said. “… I haven’t tried to put too much pressure on myself in terms of got to take the opportunity because golf doesn’t really work like that. Well, not for me anyway.”
Here are the standings and counting scores for Saturday’s second round of the team competition at LIV Golf Orlando. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.
1. SMASH GC (-26): Brooks Koepka 65, Matthew Wolff 68, Jason Kokrak 68 (Rd. 2 score: -12)
2. TORQUE GC (-24): Mito Pereira 66, Joaquin Niemann 68, David Puig 68 (Rd. 2 score: -11)
3. CLEEKS GC (-21): Laurie Canter 66, Graeme McDowell 67, Bernd Wiesberger 69 (Rd. 2 score: -11)
4. 4ACES GC (-19): Patrick Reed 67, Peter Uihlein 67, Dustin Johnson 70 (Rd. 2 score: -9)
5. STINGER GC (-17): Charl Schwartzel 65, Branden Grace 70, Louis Oosthuizen 70 (Rd. 2 score: -8)
6. IRON HEADS GC (-16): Kevin Na 66, Scott Vincent 67, Danny Lee 70 (Rd. 2 score: -10)
7. MAJESTICKS GC (-15): Sam Horsfield 66, Lee Westwood 71, Henrik Stenson 72 (Rd. 2 score: -4)
T8. HYFLYERS GC (-11): Cameron Tringale 66, James Piot 66, Brendan Steele 72 (Rd. 2 score: -9)
T8. CRUSHERS GC (-11): Paul Casey 69, Bryson DeChambeau 69, Andy Ogletree 70 (Rd. 2 score: -5)
T8. RANGEGOATS GC (-11): Talor Gooch 69, Thomas Pieters 71, Bubba Watson 72 (Rd. 2 score: -1)
11. FIREBALLS GC (-9): Abraham Ancer 66, Carlos Ortiz 69, Eugenio Chacarra 71 (Rd. 2 score: -7)
12. RIPPER GC (-8): Cameron Smith 69, Jediah Morgan 70, Marc Leishman 72 (Rd. 2 score: -3)
LESS MENTAL MISTAKES FOR KOEPKA: 36-hole leader Brooks Koepka finished outside the points in his first two LIV Golf starts of 2023 (31st in Mayakoba, 29th in Tucson). Now he’s on the verge of his second LIV win this week in Orlando. The difference? “Just got rid of the mental mistakes,” he said. “I look back, Mexico, I felt like I was playing pretty well, just made dumb mistakes. Then go to Tucson and I played the tough holes really well and played the easy holes probably the worst in the field.” As for this week? “Just making sure I miss on the correct side, giving myself chances, don’t take too much on,” he said. “And it’s worked.”
REED LURKING 4 SHOTS BEHIND: 4Aces GC star Patrick Reed enters Sunday within striking distance of the lead after posting consecutive 4-under 67s. Reed is looking for his first LIV Golf individual win. “Game is trending, just need to eliminate a little bit of mental mistakes,” he said. “I’ve had too many of those so far this week.” Two weeks ago in Tucson, Reed moved up the leaderboard with a 5-under 66 to finish T18. “I like Sundays,” Reed said.
Patrick Reed has shot back-to-back 67s and enters Sunday in a tie for third place (Photo by Mike Stobe/LIV Golf)
CANTER’S HEALTH AND NEW DRIVER: Cleeks GC’s Laurie Canter attributes two things to his improved play this week – a healthy back and a new driver. He said back issues hampered his performance to start 2023, but that he finally started feeling better in Tucson. He’s also put a new driver in play this week to battle the windy conditions. Through two rounds, Canter has hit nearly 65% of his fairways, ranking him in the top half of the field in driver accuracy. “My previous driver was good, straight, but a little bit spinny,” he said, “whereas this driver is a bit flatter and we’ve had two windy days and it’s got me in the fairway a little bit more.”
WILL SMASH SET TEAM RECORD: Brooks Koepka and his Smash GC team have recorded the low team counting scores in each of the first two days, shooting a cumulative 12 under on Saturday to go with Friday’s opening 14 under. That leaves Smash at 26 under through the two rounds. They’ll need to go even lower on Sunday to break the team scoring mark set last season in Bangkok by Fireballs GC, who won at 45 under.
FIRST-ROUND LEADERS BREAK EVEN: Sebastián Muñoz (Torque GC) and Richard Bland (Cleeks GC), the top two players on the leaderboard entering the second round, both shot even-par 71. The two were the only players in the top 13 through two rounds who failed to break par on Saturday. Neither of their scores counted for their respective teams. The field stroke average in the second round was 69.625, approximately a half-stroke higher than the opening round.
TORQUE TEAM HOUSE: Three members of Torque GC are staying in the same house this week – captain Joaquin Niemann, Muñoz and David Puig. The other member, Mito Pereira, is spending this week with his family. “The vibe is great,” Muñoz said. “… Everyone has kind of his role. Everyone knows how to be part of the community and not really be the center of it.” Muñoz said his role is as the group’s listener. “Some people like to vent out, and I’ll listen and try to help out a little bit.”
HV3’S COUNTING STREAK ENDS (ON A TECHNICALITY): RangeGoats GC’s Harold Varner III entered Saturday having provided a counting score for his team in each regular-season round since joining LIV Golf last season. The 19 consecutive counting scores – the longest active streak in LIV Golf – came to an end on Saturday as Varner shot a 1-over 72. At least technically, it came to end. Varner’s score was matched by captain Bubba Watson’s 72, but Watson’s score counted.