[PHOTOS: Francois Nel]

There were two golfers in the field at LIV Golf’s Jeddah event who would have generated global headlines had they won at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia. An Anthony Kim victory may have broken the internet, while a Talor Gooch win would probably have broken the record for golf memes created in a seven-day span.

Joaquin Niemann didn’t break anything with his four-shot victory over South African duo Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel overnight, Australian time, but he did justify the decision by Augusta National last week to extend the Chilean a special invitation to next month’s Masters.

Niemann had travelled more than 70,000 kilometres in the past 12 weeks in an effort to play tournaments that receive Official World Golf Ranking points, given his LIV Golf League does not. Niemann, who first played the Masters in 2018 courtesy of winning the Latin American Amateur Championship, travelled to Australia in December to play in two events, hoping to play well enough to jump 40 places into the world’s top 50 who were invited to the Masters on December 31. He failed in that quest but won the Australian Open to get into the 152nd Open Championship given that our Open was part of the R&A’s Open Qualifying Series.

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The 25-year-old’s charge across the DP World Tour continued to the Middle East, where he tied for fourth at the Dubai Desert Classic, and the Asian Tour, where he placed third at the International Series Oman. His efforts to climb up the OWGR were rewarded by Augusta National, who last week invited Niemann, as well as Thorbjorn Olesen and Ryo Hisatsune, to the Masters.

In Saudi Arabia, Niemann shot a final-round 66 to finish at 17-under-par, with former Open champion Oosthuizen and 2011 Masters champion Schwartzel at 13-under. In fact, Niemann was the only player without a major victory among the top five finishers at LIV Golf Jeddah with Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm coming in at 12-under and 11-under, respectively.

When playing on tours that do receive OWGR points, Niemann has finished in the top five in his past four starts worldwide. He also won LIV’s season-opening event at Mayakoba in Mexico, meaning he has claimed two of first three LIV events of the 2024 season.

Asked if was he one of the favourites to win a major this year, Niemann, 72nd on the OWGR, quipped about the world ranking, tongue in cheek: “How is that possible? I’m like 100th in the world…”

Niemann then sidestepped hyperbole from LIV announcers suggesting he was the best player on the planet. “I’m more than happy about the way I’m playing; I’ve just got to keep doing the same practice and hitting it the same way,” he said.

Why has Niemann been playing so well? Judging by his last two holes in Saudi Arabia, it’s a lethal combination of driving and short game. Both will come in handy at the tricky tee shots and green surrounds at Augusta. Nursing a three-shot lead at Royal Greens with two to play, Niemann did not need to hit driver on the 17th and 18th. But he blasted it into the greenside rough on the short par-4 17th, before a deft pitch shot to tap-in birdie range. On the par-5 18th, Niemann again reached for the driver and pounded it down the fairway. After his second missed the green, Niemann putted from the fairway for another tap-in birdie.

“I carried it 340 [yards] on 17 and then same here [on 18],” Niemann said. “My driver is a lot longer and straighter. I’m really happy with the way I’m hitting it.”

Gooch tied for sixth at 10-under with several players, including Phil Mickelson. The Oklahoma golfer and 2023 individual LIV champion was at the centre of a controversy last week when he said that Rory McIlroy winning the Masters, and therefore completing the career Grand Slam, would have an asterisk “without some of the best players in the world” being present.


Meanwhile, Kim, the 38-year-old former PGA Tour star who had spent 12 years in injury hiatus and total obscurity, finished in last place at 16-over-par, 33 shots behind Niemann. Kim’s scores of 76-76-74 at the par-70 Royal Greens course were not too dispiriting for a guy who last teed up competitively at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.

“It was a rough week, but I’m excited to be playing professional golf again,” a stoic Kim said after his final round. “I feel blessed I have this opportunity. I’ve got to work on a lot of things but had some things going this week. I’m looking to build on that and I look to be in contention this year.

“It meant everything [to have my wife, Emily, and daughter, Bella, at the tournament this week]. I wouldn’t be here without them. Everyone at LIV has been first class and I’m honoured to be part of this organisation and moving forward I hope to represent them well.”

Niemann and LIV’s 52 other players head to Hong Kong this week for the fourth LIV event of the season. But he’s not tired.

“I want to keep going,” he said.