PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico: Paul Casey birdied his last three holes for a 6-under 65 and a share of the lead with Jason Kokrak on Friday as the second season of Saudi-backed LIV Golf began at Mayakoba.
Casey was 5 under through 10 holes before he lost ground with a double bogey on the par-4 second hole. He responded with a hat trick of birdies to close out his round on the El Camaleon golf course at the resort south of Cancun.
Kokrak played bogey-free, chipping in for one birdie and holing a couple of lengthy putts.
They were two shots clear of Peter Uihlein, Talor Gooch and Carlos Ortiz, one of two Mexican players who are part of the 48-man LIV roster.
Mayakoba previously hosted a PGA Tour event in the fall from 2007 until November, when the resort moved over to LIV Golf.
Dustin Johnson, who won the points list and its $18 million bonus last year while leading his 4Aces to the team title, was slowed by consecutive bogeys in the middle of his round. He was part of the group at 68.
Casey plays for the Crushers, and three of their four scores added to 10-under par for a three-shot advantage over Johnson’s squad and the Smash team that is captained by Brooks Koepka.
The four-month offseason brought some additional players, though the highest-ranked of the lot was Thomas Pieters at No. 35 in the world. The Belgian said he only joined when a spot became open because Hudson Swafford is having hip surgery and will be out for the remainder of the season.
Pieters opened with a 76. None of the newcomers were among 17 players who broke par. Danny Lee had a 71.
Phil Mickelson had three straight birdies early in his round but had to settle for a 72.
The 54-hole event with a shotgun start will be on linear television for the first time Saturday as part of its broadcast partnership with The CW Network.