Dustin Johnson and Carlos Ortiz shared the second-round lead at the LIV Golf Series stop in Portland on Friday, while players who jumped to the breakaway circuit continued to face criticism.
Johnson, the former world number one whose two major titles include the 2020 Masters, briefly threatened a runaway before settling for a four-under par 68 and eight-under total on Pumpkin Ridge through three late bogeys. .
He goes into the final round of the 54-hole shotgun starter event neck and neck with nighttime leader Ortiz, who birdied the final hole to cap a 69.
They are two strokes ahead of South African Branden Grace, who also scored a 69.
“I’m very happy with the way I’m swinging it,” said Johnson, who at 17th in the world is the highest-ranked player to risk the wrath of the US PGA Tour and make the jump to the lucrative new circuit.
“Tomorrow I just have to go and do the same, just ride the fairway.”
Johnson made his LIV debut at the inaugural event near London in June, as Mexico’s Ortiz plays for the first time.
Ortiz won his only US PGA Tour title at the Houston Open in 2020, joining the list of players banned from the US circuit after being knocked out in the starting Saudi-backed series.
The DP World Tour has also sanctioned members lured by the huge payday on offer, which included a signing bonus and a $20 million scholarship to this week’s field of 48 players with an additional $5 million prize pool in a team competition.
DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley on Friday launched a scathing attack on players who threatened legal action on the tour unless their sanctions – fines and suspensions – for participating in LIV Golf are lifted.
Pelley called their demands, made in a letter published in The Telegraph, inaccurate and that players knew “there would be consequences if they chose money over competition.”
Hostility from the established tours and concerns about the human rights situation of LIV’s Saudi backers are apparently not slowing the startup circuit.
Golf Digest reported Friday that the series has accelerated its growth plans for 2023 by 14 events instead of 10 and is planning a name change to the LIV Golf League.
The report, citing an unnamed LIV Golf official, said the rapid expansion is a product of attracting several top US PGA players ahead of this week’s event, including Americans Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Brooks. Koepka and Matthew Wolff.