LIV Golf Mayakoba’s final round had all the makings of the blockbuster the breakaway had splashed out $500million for. Shame Jon Rahm couldn’t quite live up to the billing.
Just two rounds into his rebel career, Rahm looked set to instantly repay his price tag as he headed into his first LIV championship Sunday in a grouping that would have had Greg Norman licking his lips.
Overnight leader Joaquin Niemann had been assessed a two-shot penalty closing the gap between him and Rahm from four to two shots and teeing up LIV’s $500m man to be on the hunt.
It provided the breakaway with the Sunday storyline that finally created intriguing viewing, especially considering the lack of competition from the PGA Tour after the postponement of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
And LIV still received a show but instead of a Rahm fairytale ending to the 2024 curtain-raiser, it was Sergio Garcia and Niemann who starred.
The final round of Jon Rahm’s LIV Golf debut didn’t quite live up to its billing on Sunday
Instead, it was Joaquin Niemann who emerged victorious with the individual title
Sergio Garcia tore up the script, narrowly losing to Niemann in a four-hole playoff in Mexico
The pair, who topped the leaderboard at 12-under, delivered a thrilling playoff under the Mexican sunset as they dueled each other over four grueling holes.
Garcia and Niemann matched each other shot for shot – the Chilean lucky to still be in it after the first playoff hole following a helping hand from a tree to keep his tee shot in bounds.
But ultimately, as the 18th green was barely lit by just the giant screen hailing LIV as ‘golf but louder’, it was Niemann who emerged victorious, going wire to wire after an opening 59 on Friday.
It was a playoff that Rahm could have easily headlined. He tried in his defense. In fact, he tried until the bitter end but an errant tee shot left on 17 cost him a penalty shot and ultimately a shot at the individual title.
Bogeys at 17 and 18 saw him finish at 10-under, two shots back of Garcia and Niemann.
While he was no longer LIV’s leading man, Rahm did deliver in the best supporting actor role.
Rahm had said to come back and ask him again how it would feel to clinch a team win on his LIV Golf debut when asked on Saturday. Following his final round, he could finally provide an answer.
Legion XIII tore away with the team win just days after being cobbled together thanks to Tyrrell Hatton finally finding his feet.
While Rahm was trying to make a chase to catch Niemann at the top, his teammate Hatton was making a charge of his own.
Niemann and Garcia delivered a thrilling playoff under the Mexican sunset as they dueled
The 18th green was barely lit by just the giant screen on the final hole of the playoff
LIV could find some consolation in the fact that Rahm’s Legion XIII won the team title
Sunday saw the introduction of LIV’s new team format where all four scores count and Hatton did not let his teammates down.
The Englishman had failed to set the rebel circuit alight through the opening two rounds of his debut, heading into the final day even-par but on Sunday, when it really counted, he did not disappoint.
The World No. 16 scorched round El Camaleon to rocket up the leaderboard, almost catching his captain, to finish seven-under for the day and for the tournament with a share of eighth place.
But more importantly he catapulted Legion XIII to the win on its debut, along with the help of Caleb Surratt and Kieran Vincent.
Surratt, who finished five-under, also impressively contributed to his team’s overall score of 24-under, which saw them finish four shots ahead of Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers.
It also saw him take home his first professional paycheck of $750,000. Not bad for a teenager.
‘If we were to win the event, I don’t even know if I could take part in the champagne thing,’ the teenager had jokingly admitted during their introductory press conference Wednesday. In the end, he left the champagne spraying to his teammates as he held the trophy.
Tyrrell Hatton found his feet and catapulted his new team up the leaderboard on Sunday
Teenager Caleb Surratt (center) also impressively helped contribute to their 24-under score
The team element of LIV had been scoffed at and mocked by many with professional Eddie Pepperell even branding it ‘cringe’.
Yet here were Rahm and Hatton, gladiators of Luke Donald’s legion that dismantled Team USA in Rome, risking playing for Team Europe at Bethpage next year in exchange for one of LIV’s rebel rosters.
Earlier this week it was almost laughable that they could possibly feel the same passion for a team that had been cobbled together at the last minute as they did for Team Europe.
But dressed in their Legion XIII regalia, they, along with 19-year-old Surratt and qualifier Vincent, actually looked the part of a team – and a winning team no less.
There’s still doubts and questions over LIV’s format and its future and while the players may appear to be buying into it, are the fans?
Dressed in their Legion XIII regalia, Rahm and Hatton actually looked the part of a team
Having LIV’s two biggest additions lead its first expansion team to victory right out the gate, could help the breakaway make some progress in its battle over public opinion.
But Rahm’s defection was supposed to mark the new era of LIV Golf. The fact they couldn’t seize upon a victory from him makes it feel like an opportunity has slipped away.
The circuit was able to promote its season opener as the unveiling of the Masters champion but with the fanfare of his debut now out of the way, whether they can continuously entice fans throughout the remainder of the season remains in doubt.
LIV proudly showed off its $500m prize this week but it now faces the risk that the celebration of its coup is just a one-off.