MIAMI PREVIEW: CLEEKS HAVE HIGH HOPES AT DORAL AFTER STRONG JEDDAH FINISH
MIAMI – Timing is everything in sport and, for that reason alone, the all-European Cleeks have high hopes going into this week's LIV Golf Team Championship at Trump National Doral, where $50 million in prize money is on the line.
Just three days ago, they collectively delivered their best day of the 2023 regular season, finishing with a flourish to secure their first podium spot this year by placing third on the team leaderboard at LIV Golf Jeddah presented by ROSHN.
Austrian Bernd Weisberger and Ulsterman Graeme McDowell both signed off with sizzling 7-under 63s at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, in-form Englishman Richard Bland closed with a 66 and captain Martin Kaymer carded a 70 as the team earned their seventh top-10 of the season, and their fifth in a row. Their three counting scores delivered an 18-under total, the best of any of the 12 teams on that last day.
Boosted by that superb form in Jeddah, the Cleeks certainly have a spring in their step heading into Miami for the final tournament of the LIV Golf League's first full season, where they will face the seventh-seeded Rippers in Friday's opening match-play quarterfinal round.
"Obviously we go into this week with a little more confidence than if we would not have performed the way we did in Jeddah," Kaymer said during Wednesday's team selection press conference. "Richard, it wasn't a big surprise he played well because he has played well all year, very consistent. It's just a matter of time where you have one of those days where you make a few more putts that you shoot those 7-, 8-unders."
The straight-hitting Bland has been the most consistent Cleeks player in 2023, and especially over the past four months. He cemented his Lock Zone status in Jeddah for next year after finishing 6th, 3rd, 11th, 9th and 14th in his last five starts of the regular season.
"Graeme and Bernd, they really didn't find their game this year,” said Kaymer. "The way it sounded when I talked to them, it was all there, but they couldn't really score. When we played practice rounds, Bernd was playing good enough but he couldn't get it done in the golf tournament. And G-Mac was pretty much the same. But on Sunday in Jeddah, they let loose and showed what they are capable of. It was nice to see."
Kaymer was not at all unhappy that he was the worst scorer in Jeddah in Sunday's final round.
"That's a very good sign when we shoot 18-under par as a team, and that's what you need in match play. You need a lot of birdies. It's important knowing that you can do that. That is big going into a match-play tournament, and that definitely did change a little of our mindset going into this week, I would say."
In Friday's match-play encounters on the Blue Monster layout, Kaymer will take on Rippers GC captain Cameron Smith, Bland will play against Marc Leishman and the foursomes contest will pit Graeme McDowell and Bernd Wiesberger against Australian duo Matt Jones and Jediah Morgan.
The Cleeks played well at Doral last year, with Bland and McDowell combining well together in the foursomes, and they finished up in eighth spot in the Team Championship after going out in the semi-finals. For this year, however, Kaymer has decided to split up the Bland and McDowell pairing.
"Richard has had a very strong season," said Kaymer, who missed out on Doral last year due to a wrist injury. "He has played really well, very consistent. He also could have played foursomes ... anybody would like to play with him because he doesn't make many mistakes.
"But I think with G-Mac and Bernd, they have good Ryder Cup experience, they are very good in match play and they are consistent players. Richard felt like he really wanted to play singles when I asked him, and the other two, they were happy playing foursomes. It's going to be very tight and it's going to be very difficult to win, and obviously playing against Cam is going to be tricky. But we had a very good tournament last week, so we are coming in strong."