PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico (AP) — Joaquin Niemann outlasted Sergio Garcia well after sunset Sunday in the season-opening LIV Golf Mayakoba, making a 12-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the fourth hole of a playoff with the green lit by a large video screen.
“It was super dark,” Niemann said “I think it probably helped me just not being so picky on picking my spot and just looking at the hole, getting a feeling and just get it there. It was the best way to end it up. I wanted to make a putt on the last one to win.”
Niemann won his first LIV Golf title two days after opening with a 12-under 59 — and after having two penalty strokes tacked onto his second-round score Sunday morning for taking incorrect relief on a drop from a cart path on the 13th hole.
“I’m pretty happy that the day ended up this way, especially how the morning started,” Niemann said. “I think dinner is going to taste a little bit better than breakfast.
The penalty strokes left the 25-year-old Chilean two shots ahead entering the final round. He closed with a 70, parring the final two holes to match Garcia at 12-under 201 at El Camaleon. Garcia parred the final three holes of regulation in a 66.
“I wasn’t feeling great. My swing is still not feeling great,” Garcia said. “To be able to hang in there as much as I did and almost win without feeling very comfortable at all is a positive.”
Niemann had putts to win on the par-4 18th in regulation and again on the first two extra trips down the hole, then survived on the third playoff hole when Garcia missed a 10-foot birdie try. The winner got a break in the first playoff hole when his drive struck a right-side tree and and ended up in the rough.
“I got lucky on the first playoff hole,” Niemann said. “I think that shot right there got me back from that two-shot penalty that I had this morning. I kind of took it that way.”
Rather than finish Monday, Niemann and Garcia decided to play a fourth extra hole in the fading light, and Garcia gave Niemann a big opening when he left his approach from the fairway well right in deep rough. The 44-year-old Spanish player’s flop shot raced by the right edge, and Niemann followed with the winner in the longest playoff in the Saudi-funded league’s three-year history.
Niemann also won a playoff in December in Australian Open in December, topping Rikuya Hoshino with an eagle.
“I was more excited than anything to start the season, to start playing on LIV and start playing for my teammates,” Niemann said. “I was just excited to get started. I think this is the best way to get started.”
Masters champion Jon Rahm, the biggest name to sign with LIV Golf league during the offseason, tied for third at 10 under in his tour debut.
Tied for the lead with two holes left, Rahm closed with two bogeys for a 70. He drove left into trouble on the 17th and found a fairway bunker off the tee on 18.
The Spanish star did lead Legion XIII to the team title, four strokes ahead of Bryson DeChambeau-led Crushers GC.
“It’s very nice in a day in which, in any normal tournament I probably would have been upset at my finish, to actually have something to celebrate,” Rahm said.
Dean Burmester also was 10 under after a 70.
“It wasn’t my day, unfortunately, but it was there for the taking,” Burmester said.
Defending champion Charles Howell III (68) tied for fifth at 8 under with Dustin Johnson (67) and Brooks Koepka (68).
Niemann earned $4 million, Garcia $2.25 million and Rahm and Burmester $1.25 million each. Rahm and Legion XIII teammates Tyrrell Hatton, Caleb Surratt and Kieran Vincent got $3 million in the team competition. The 19-year-old Surratt, made his professional debut.
The tour is headed to Las Vegas for an event that starts Thursday.