CLEEKS SEAL UPSET WIN OVER RIPPERS; CRUSHERS IN SEMIS
MIAMI – With Richard Bland leading the way, and the Graeme McDowell-Bernd Wiesberger duo providing clean-up in an epic foursomes match, the Cleeks booked their place in Saturday's match-play Semifinal round with a stunning 2-1 upset victory over the Rippers at the LIV Golf Team Championship on Friday.
Englishman Bland produced brilliant form on the way to a 4 & 3 win against Marc Leishman and his captain Martin Kaymer fought bravely before losing to 2022 Open champion Cameron Smith on the 19th hole in the opening match-play Quarterfinal round at Trump National Doral.
That left the tie hanging 1-1 in the balance as McDowell and Wiesberger fought tooth and nail in a fluctuating foursomes battle against Australian duo Matt Jones and Jediah Morgan.
Neither pairing ever got more than 1 up over their opponents and fortunes went back and forth before Ulsterman McDowell sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the 21st hole, the par-4 14th, to seal victory for the 10th-seeded Cleeks over the seventh-seeded Rippers.
German Kaymer was hugely impressed by his team's success on Friday, which followed hot on the heels of their first podium finish this season - a third placing at last week's LIV Golf Jeddah presented by ROSHN.
"What the Cleeks did since last week was very impressive, shooting those low scores on Sunday in Jeddah to get on the podium for the first time this year, and then today was a big fight," said Kaymer, who came back from 3 down to Smith with birdies on seven, eight and nine to level the match after 18 holes.
"Richard just did what he does, playing very solid, making a lot of birdies. Bernd and G-Mac, wow! Bernd, the way he played the last few holes, what I've heard and what I've seen was impressive, and G-Mac did what he did at the Ryder Cup. He made the putt what it mattered. I was fighting until the very end. It was a tough match against Cam. But we all played well."
The straight-hitting Bland set the tone for the all-European Cleeks in his match against Leishman. He birdied five of his first six holes to seize early control against Leishman and he finally wrapped up the 4 & 3 win after both players parred the par-4 seventh.
"In 18-hole match play, if you can get up early it's just so important," said Bland, who was seven under after 15 holes against Leishman. "You get that momentum and hopefully it kind of feeds into the team as well. I knew I was going to have to bring my best game. I played with Leish last Sunday, and it was the first time I had played with him. He's world-class. But I got 3 up on him and fortunately it never got back to 1. He got it back to 2 but I then got back to 3, which was huge."
After completing his victory over Leishman, Bland then went back out on the course to support his team while watching the last four holes of the foursomes match. He saw McDowell hit a brilliant approach to six feet at the par-4 11th before Wiesberger sank the putt to take the match into extra holes.
The drama heightened as Jones holed out for birdie from a greenside bunker at the par-five 12th just as the Cleeks thought they had the match in the bag. Wiesberger had to make a 15-footer there to keep the match alive, and was required to sink another at the par-3 13th before McDowell wrapped up a nail-biting win on the 14th green.
"You think you're in the driving seat and G's hit an unbelievable shot into 11 and fair play to Bernd to step up and hole the putt," said Bland. "And then you think down 12 that Jed has hit it so far left and you think, 'Well, we're really in the driver's seat.' And then Jonesy goes and holes it.
"And Bernd has got to hole from 15 feet to keep it going, and then does it again on the par-3. But I said to Martin, there's no one I would rather have in golf over about a 20-footer than G-Mac to win a game. He's just one of the best putters I have ever seen."
Following their upset win over the Rippers, the Cleeks were selected as opponents for the Crushers in Saturday's semifinal round. Kaymer will take on Crusher GC captain Bryson DeChambeau, Bland will play against fellow Englishman Paul Casey and the foursomes contest will pit McDowell and Wiesberger against Charles Howell II and Anirban Lahiri.
"I don't know if Bryson or me, if we've ever played together -- but I'm definitely going to take different lines than he will tomorrow," smiled Kaymer. "But hopefully I can make a few putts, so it'll be a good match."