SYDNEY, Australia — For LIV Golf star Joaquin Niemann, the challenge was simple, if hefty.
Travel down to Australia, play its two biggest tournaments, which are co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour, and secure enough Official World Golf Rankings points to climb almost 40 places and enter the top 50 by December 31 who are invited to the 2024 Masters.
It almost worked out.
After a fifth place at last week’s Australian PGA, Niemann jumped from World No. 87 to 82. On Sunday, he won the ISPS HANDA Australian Open in stunning fashion at The Australian Golf Club to give his quest a ray of hope. The Australian Open field included major winners like Cameron Smith and Adam Scott, as well as DP World Tour stars like Adrian Meronk, Min Woo Lee and Ryder Cup hero Bob MacIntyre.
Niemann, from Chile, was tied in regulation in Sydney at 14 under par (271) with Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino. After both made birdie on the first trip down the par-5 18th, Niemann fired his second shot to six feet on the second playoff hole and made the eagle putt to defeat Hoshino, who made birdie from a greenside bunker. It was Niemann’s first big victory since joining LIV last fall and since capturing the 2022 Genesis Invitational at Riviera.
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) December 3, 2023
“It means a lot,” Niemann said. “I wanted to win so bad for a long time.”
Overnight leader Lee was third at 12 under, while Adam Scott was among three players tied fourth at 11 under.
The Australian Women’s Open, played concurrently with the men’s event, was won by South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai, who successful defended her title by beating Min Woo Lee’s older sister, Minjee Lee, by a stroke.
The OWGR projections were made in the moments after Niemann’s win, and he is expected to move to No. 59. Even with playing in his native Chile Open next week, Niemann is unlikely to secure an invitation to the 2024 Masters before the year is out.
Impressive eagle finish from @joaconiemann down under to win the #AusOpen!!
He is projected to jump to #59 in the #OWGR! Not enough to get him in the top 50 at the end of the year. Will have to earn more points from somewhere before the next March deadline for #TheMasters… https://t.co/Ju1mVihpR3
— Nosferatu (@VC606) December 3, 2023
“Not even winning both tournaments would have been enough to get into the top 50 and the majors,” Niemann said. “But the Australian Open such a good tournament, so it was easy to make my decision to come here and play some golf. This means a lot.”
The silver lining to Niemann’s victory was the Australian Open awards three spots in the Open Championship each year courtesy of being part of the R&A’s Open qualifying series. The top three on the leaderboard in Sydney (not already exempt) secured starts at the 152nd Open at Royal Troon next year. They were Niemann, Hoshino and Scott.
“I’m still not sure how I’ll play all the majors [in 2024] but at least I know for sure I’m in the Open, which is nice,” Niemann said.
Ashleigh Buhai held of Australia’s Minjee Lee to repeat as the winner of the Women’s ISPS HANDA Australian Open, played concurrently with the men’s championship at The Australian Golf Course.
Niemann was ranked No. 19 on the Official World Golf Rankings when he joined LIV last September. This year, Niemann spent most of the year inside the OWGR top 50, and played in all four majors. His best results were a T16 at the Masters and T23 at the U.S. Open.
But due to the 54-hole, no-cut league not receiving world ranking points, the former two-time PGA Tour winner’s ranking began to blow out from July onwards.
Niemann will still have opportunities in early 2024 to crack the OWGR top 50. But they will have to be extracurricular Asian Tour events outside LIV, which start in Mexico in late January. The Asian Tour has a partnership with LIV Golf and does receive OWGR points.
“Yeah, it is unfortunate, I think I should be playing those tournaments,” Niemann said of the majors. “I know I have the game to win one of the majors. It is what it is; I took this challenge [joining LIV] knowing that I was not going to be [assured of playing] in the majors, so I was going to go out there and try to [earn] my spot. That was my mentality of coming to Australia.”
The consolation, for now at least, was Niemann etched his name onto the Australian Open’s trophy, the Stonehaven Cup. The 119-year-old championship’s past winners include Jordan Spieth, who won at The Australian G.C. in 2014 and at Royal Sydney in 2016, as well as Rory McIlroy (2013), Tom Watson (1984) and six-time winner Jack Nicklaus, among others.
“There are some good names here; Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player,” Niemann said. “It feels pretty good [to join them]. It’s nice to be here with the trophy. This is a good test to get ready next season.”
A season Niemann hopes will include more majors.
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This article was originally published on golfdigest.com