Written by
Mark Lamport-Stokes, LIV Golf Correspondent
Jun 09 2024
- 4 MIN
Meronk Cleeks recap STORY image

HUMBLE, Texas - Strong momentum is not always a guarantee for success, but Cleeks GC made that count in mightily impressive fashion as the all-European combination clinched its first-ever LIV Golf trophy at LIV Golf Houston on Sunday.

Five shots behind the pacesetting Fireballs GC heading into the final round at the Golf Club of Houston, the Cleeks caught fire over the closing nine holes to claim the coveted team title by two strokes over Smash GC and the Fireballs. They finished with a 33-under aggregate.

With 2023 DP World Tour Player of the Year Adrian Meronk firing a 4-under 68 to finish second on the individual leaderboard and veteran Richard Bland making birdie on his final hole to complete a 67, the Cleeks improved on their runner-up finish in their previous start - at LIV Golf Singapore last month.

"We came here knowing we were doing well, we were in good shape, and our form was trending in that direction that we want," said Cleeks captain Martin Kaymer, who tied for ninth after closing with a 70 that included five birdies in a six-hole stretch. "To actually pull it off and win this thing … it means a lot for us as a team and for me as a captain.

"The last two years have been quite difficult. We've been so many times on the bottom of the leaderboard. Individual competition is great, but to celebrate together and do this together, this is why we came here and this is why LIV exists, to have that team competition."

The Cleeks made the best possible start to the week with Kaymer and Meronk carding 7-under 65s, and Kalle Samooja weighing in with a 69, to give them a three-stroke lead at the top of the team standings. It was the first time the Cleeks had led in LIV Golf since last year's opening round in Adelaide.

Both Kaymer and Meronk went bogey-free on day one in sweltering conditions which came as something of a surprise to the players.

"Usually you don't really pay attention to the heat because we are so used to it, but today surprised me," said Kaymer. "You just need to prepare a little bit different. You know what you're going to get into. The team is doing good. We are just trending right now."

They certainly had been trending. In their previous LIV Golf start in Singapore, the Cleeks had tied for second, their best-ever result. Then three weeks later, Bland won the Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Michigan on his debut in the over-50 ranks.

"What Richard did a couple weeks ago really helped our team spirit again," said Kaymer. "We were really in a good place, but a win can make a big difference. Top 5s, top 10s -those are good results, but a win gets you to a whole 'nother level. The way Richard is playing is inspiring."

Although both Kaymer and Samooja dropped down the leaderboard on day two, Meronk rebounded from a tough start that included two bogeys in his first five holes to shoot a 69. That left him in a four-way tie for the lead with Crushers GC's Paul Casey, Torque GC's Carlos Ortiz and Fireballs GC's David Puig.

"Played quite solid," said Meronk, who joined LIV Golf just before the start of this season. "Could have been much lower. Missed a couple of putts coming down the stretch. But still pretty pleased with my round and my position going into Sunday."

Kaymer returned a 72 to end day two in a share of eighth place while Bland produced the other counting score, carding a 71 to leave the Cleeks in a tie for third in the team standings.

Meronk continued to prosper in Sunday’s final round. Though he dropped two strokes behind the pacesetting Ortiz despite making a couple of birdies in his first six holes, he picked up shots at the par-4 11th and the driveable par-4 12th to get back into a tie at the top - at 14-under.

However, the individual title was effectively decided three holes later. Co-leader with Ortiz at 15-under, Meronk missed the fairway to the left at the par-5 15th and took an unplayable lie en route to a bogey six. Ortiz birdied the hole to forge two ahead, and went on to triumph by one after bogeying the last.

"I was only two shots back individually, so I knew there was still a chance," said Meronk. "I was doing my best to make some birdies. Unfortunately they didn't drop. Fifteen was the point where I lost a little bit of momentum. Carlos played great today. We kind of were battling all day, just me and him. He really deserved it. I hope I can get him next time."

Englishman Bland tied for 24th at 4-under after closing with a seven-birdie 67 and Finland's Samooja shared 32nd place at 3-under after signing off with a 71.

"It's easy to see that we were going in the right direction," said Bland. "We were. Today we were able to pull it off. What a great feeling. It's very, very special."