Fourteen months ago, in August 2022, Talor Gooch had earned enough points to qualify for the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship. He was 29th on the 2022 FedEx Cup standings, despite having played just two PGA Tour events – majors, not regular events – since June when he had left for LIV Golf’s inaugural tournament in London. He was suspended indefinitely and prohibited from competing in any more PGA Tour events. No East Lake Golf Club appearance for the Oklahoma tour pro, and certainly no chance to play for the $US18 million bonus afforded to the FedEx Cup winner.

This year, on his new league, Gooch was not only in the finale – all 48 players on LIV’s roster play in it – he was second on the points race behind major winner Cameron Smith. But the Australian putting whiz struggled all week with the short stick at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, earning zero points for his T-24. Gooch, meanwhile, produced the most lucrative round of his life – a bogey-free 62 – to take the points title and its $US18 million ($A28 million) prize. With 30 points at LIV Golf Jeddah, he finished the individual season with 192 points, ahead of Smith (170) and Brooks Koepka (152).

“It was one of those kind of special days you dream about; putts going in from everywhere,” Gooch said. “It was a great day and a great end to the season.”

It was also an unusual end to LIV’s individual season, which sets up this week’s teams finale in Miami. Gooch was still tied with Koepka on the tournament scoreboard at 14-under and the duo needed a second extra hole. Gooch pulled his approach into the water at the par-5 18th while Koepka, who won the event last year, made birdie to successfully defend his 2022 Jeddah title. His win elevated him to third in the season-long points, but Koepka had no idea.

“You just won $4 million… extra,” he was informed during a greenside interview. “Sweet, that’s a good feeling,” said a surprised Koepka, who claimed an additional $US4 million for the tournament victory.

Since his Jeddah win last year, Koepka has marked his return to health and form with wins at LIV Orlando in March, a T-2 at the Masters, a fifth major win at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May, and an appearance at last month’s Ryder Cup.

 “I definitely feel like I’m back to my old self,” Koepka said. “This one is probably a little different just because it’s the first win as a dad. I’m sure [wife] Jena and [newborn son] Crew are watching.”

The majority of the riches, however, went to Gooch. The Oklahoma State University alum’s entire PGA Tour career – which included a 2021 RSM Classic victory among 123 starts – amassed $US9,250,299 in prizemoney. His LIV season-long points victory, and tournament runner-up, in Saudi Arabia combined for more than double that: $US20,250,000 ($A30.8 million). The 31-year-old had already collected $15 million ($A23.8 million) this season courtesy of three wins (in Adelaide, Singapore and Spain), as well as four top-10s.

“It’s a validation of the golfer that I am, to the hard work we put in for years and years,” he said after the playoff. “This game will beat you up. But we’ve done a good job continuing to improve and learning from mistakes. It would have been sweet to beat Brooks and cap it off like that, but it was a heck of a year and I’m very, very proud of that.”

Asked what he would spend the $18 million on, Gooch said his foundation in Oklahoma, which supports children, would be the starting point: “My wife and I have a foundation that we started, and first and foremost it’s going to do a lot of good back home for a lot of kids. That’s going to be the focus.”

Another storyline at LIV Jeddah was the last chance for golfers to secure their status for LIV’s 2024 season via finishing in the top 24 on the points standings. Zimbabwe’s Scott Vincent played his way from 31st to 22nd on points courtesy of a T-3 in Jeddah. England’s Richard Bland, who turned 50 earlier this year, remained at 20th on points courtesy of a T-11 at Royal Greens. The former DP World Tour veteran revealed his brother is battling cancer and that he was taking him to play Augusta National later this month.

“Trying to give him something to look forward to seeing what he has to go through every day is not nice, so I’m trying to keep him as positive as we can be,” Bland said on Saturday.

Nos.25-44 on the standings were placed in what LIV Golf calls its “Open Zone”, where players face being traded from their franchise teams. Six players finished outside 44th and were placed in a relegation zone. Of those six, team captains Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer were exempt from having to tee up in a LIV qualifying school scheduled for late November. But Australia’s Jed Morgan, James Piot, Koepka’s brother Chase and Sihwan Kim were relegated.

Despite Gooch winning three times, and Smith, Koepka and DeChambeau claiming two titles each, with DeChambeau shooting a 58 during his second win, LIV’s sophomore season will be remembered for two things. Firstly, for opening up conversations with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan that led to the June 6 framework agreement between the two tours, as well as the DP World Tour. That deal – which is still being negotiated with a December 31 deadline looming – proposes the PGA Tour will create a new, for-profit entity in which LIV’s financier, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, will be a minority investor. The exact capacity of the PIF’s investment is unknown, and reports have emerged recently that there are up to eight parties interested in partnering with the PGA Tour. Sports and entertainment company, Endeavor, confirmed they submitted a bid on October 5.

“I think we could add to it what we’ve added to all of our sports,” Endeavor chief executive Ari Emanuel told Bloomberg last week.

The second hallmark of LIV’s encore season was less favourable; on the eve of the Jeddah tournament the league was informed its application for Official World Golf Ranking points was denied after 15 months’ consideration. OWGR chairman Peter Dawson wrote to LIV chief executive Greg Norman and outlined the reason for rejection was the OWGR was unable to accurately compared LIV’s 48-player, 54-hole, shotgun start, no-cut events with the other 24 tours it awards points to. The qualifying and relegation methods employed by LIV Golf were also questioned.

But Gooch said he had no doubts of his place among golf’s elite, even 187th on the OWGR (sidenote: he is 35th on DataGolf’s rankings).

“[2023] is a validation of… the years it took to get my game to this spot to, I think, be considered one of the best players in the world,” he said.