The two best players in the field at the LIV Golf event in Chicago remain the top two players on the leaderboard after 36 holes. However, they switched positions on Saturday. Dustin Johnson followed his 63 on Friday in Round 1 with a 73 on Saturday — his first over-par round in LIV Golf — and fell back to 8 under. He’s two back of Cameron Smith, who backed up his 66 in Round 1 with a 68 in Round 2 to get to 10 under and take the lead going into the finale on Sunday.
Smith and Johnson are the class of the field by almost any measure, and they have dominated the first two days of LIV’s first event in Chicago (or at least the first event near Chicago). They should be the two that duke it out on Sunday as they play in the final group starting on the first hole.
The task ahead for Johnson is formidable. Smith is the reigning Players champion and Open Championship winner, and in his three victories this year he has shot 65-66-64 in those final rounds. D.J. is looking for his second consecutive LIV victory, but his play has been inconsistent so far this week with one round in the low 60s and the other one ballooning over par. It’s unclear what’s in store for Sunday, and Smith is the only player in the field to shoot 68 or better in each of the first two rounds.
“It was tricky out there today, and I think I got a couple of breaks and D.J. didn’t quite make the putts he usually does,” said Smith.”It’s going to be tight, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
When asked if there was any part of his game that needed work going into Sunday, Smith declined.
“It all feels pretty good to be honest.”
It all looked pretty good as well. Smith went out in 32 before making an early bogey on the back, which he erased with two birdies on his final two holes. When he’s driving it accurately — which he was for the most part on Saturday — he is perhaps the best player in the world. Every other part of his game is world-class.
Fittingly, D.J.’s team (4 Aces) and Smith’s team (Punch GC) are fighting for the top spot in the team competition this week as well. For the first time since LIV started, D.J.’s score was not used for his team — only the top two scores are used in the first two days — but Pat Perez (-1) and Patrick Reed (-3) picked him up on Saturday. The 4 Aces are -15, one shot ahead of Punch GC, which used Smith’s 4-under 68 and Matt Jones’ even-par 72.
As for who could challenge Smith and Johnson on Sunday, the list is not lengthy. Peter Uihlein shot the best round of the day on Saturday to slide into third at 7 under, and he’s three back of Smith and one back of Johnson. Beyond that, Laurie Canter and Charl Schwartzel are 6 under, and Bryson DeChambeau, Charles Howell III and Lee Westwood are all 5 under.
Sunday is likely going to be what Friday and Saturday were: a Johnson-Smith showdown for $4 million and the fifth LIV Golf title of the year. LIV Golf has been (rightfully) criticized in a lot of ways, but it’s undeniable this week that it’s a league providing a strong Sunday clash between two of the 10 best players on the planet currently. Even though it remains difficult to contextualize what a win for either would mean as it relates to the bigger picture, it should be a fun final 18 holes as Smith and Johnson try to do what they’ve done for the first 36 holes of this tournament: stay ahead of the rest of the pack.
1. Cam Smith: -10
2. Dustin Johnson: -8
3. Peter Uihlein: -7
T4. Charl Schwartzel: -6
T4. Laurie Canter: -6
T6. Bryson DeChambeau: -5
T6. Lee Westwood: -5
T6. Charles Howell III: -5