May 20, 2024

Australia’s Marc Leishman carded a bogey-free 5-under 65 on Friday to grab the first-round lead at the LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

The former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year leads defending champ Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Harold Varner III by one stroke in the $25 million regular season-ending event at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

Leishman recorded four birdies on the front nine at Nos. 4, 5, 8 and 9 and added another at the par-4 12th hole in blustery conditions on the 7,048-yard course in King Abdullah Economic City.

“Yeah, it was pretty tough. A fair bit of wind, and it was nice to be finding the middle of the face,” he said. “I played pretty well today and made a couple of good putts to go along with it. When the conditions are tough like they were today, it’s nice to get a good score on the board, and hopefully I can keep it going for the rest of the weekend.”

Leishman, 39, said his experience on the course, including a T6 at the Saudi International in February, helped him avoid pitfalls.

“(I) gained some confidence, learned how to play the course a bit more and how to read the greens,” he said. “They’re quite tricky greens. I think that’s a big part of success around here is reading the greens and obviously avoiding the trouble. There’s a few holes where there’s places you just can’t hit it.”

Koepka, who won this event last year in a playoff with Peter Uihlein, had a more eventful round than Leishman with four birdies, two bogeys and an eagle at the par-4 ninth hole.

“It went in. I don’t know what else to tell you,” Koepka said of his eagle at the 498-yard hole. “It went in. A little bit of luck involved for any shot to go in, but it was a good shot, too, so it was nice.”

Johnson posted five birdies and one bogey on the front nine and nine pars on the back. Varner birdied five of the first seven holes, then gave shots back at Nos. 9 and 11 before finishing with a birdie at No. 18.

Charles Howell III, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and England’s Richard Bland are tied for fifth in the 48-player field at 3-under.

Leishman’s Ripper GC and Crushers GC share the lead in the team competition at 6-under, one stroke ahead of Fireballs GC and 4Aces GC.

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