Golf’s most polarizing circuit returns to Mexico this week for LIV Golf’s 2024 season opener, headlined by Jon Rahm’s much-hyped debut. After sending shockwaves through golf by defecting from the PGA Tour in December, the former world #1 finally unveils his talents on the Saudi-funded rival league.
- Jon Rahm makes his highly-anticipated LIV Golf debut at El Camaleón after signing a reported $500 million deal
- Rahm’s new Legion XIII squad also features recent LIV recruit Tyrrell Hatton
- Joaquin Niemann is tipped as a strong contender given his wind-suited game and past success in Mexico
- Newcomers Adrian Meronk and Lucas Herbert add intrigue, with Meronk arriving in strong recent form
- El Camaleón is a quirky, accuracy-demanding layout where precision and course management is key
Rahm will lead new squad Legion XIII at El Camaleón Golf Club, a distinctive parkland layout near Cancun heaving with mangroves and sand dunes. His latest star-studded roster includes English standout Tyrrell Hatton, fresh off inking his own lucrative LIV deal.
But Rahm’s towering presence doesn’t intimidate golf experts like Steve Palmer. Rather, Palmer tips Chile’s Joaquin Niemann as a prime contender to capture LIV’s first trophy of the year at 14-1 odds.
“Niemann seems likely to start the LIV season strongly,” Palmer wrote in his tournament preview. “The 25-year-old Santiago man is determined to get his first LIV victory.”
Unlike many in the field shaking off rust from extended offseason breaks, Niemann arrives battle-tested after strong December showings at the Australian PGA Championship and Australian Open. His accurate ball-striking also suits the demands of El Camaleón, a fiddly track requiring sound course management. Niemann finished fifth on his last PGA Tour start there, demonstrating his sneaky comfort on one of LIV CEO Greg Norman’s designs.
While Rahm has prepared rigorously for his LIV unveiling, Palmer believes the 4-1 favorite offers limited appeal on a breezy course with tiny greens. “A fiddly course and a breezy final 36 holes mean the Spaniard holds limited appeal at a best-priced 4-1,” the veteran golf writer assessed.
— LIV Golf (@livgolf_league) January 31, 2024
Rahm’s Legion XIII comrade Hatton could face a difficult transition as well. “Dunlap, playing his first tournament as a professional, seems likely to find this event much tougher than The American Express he conquered the week before last,” Palmer said of Nick Dunlap, Hatton’s opening round playing partner.
Instead, several new faces to LIV look capable of quicker success. Poland’s Adrian Meronk opted to defect after initially pledging loyalty to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, while Australian Lucas Herbert defects after showing promise early in 2023.
Meronk in particular arrives firing on all cylinders after pushing Rory McIlroy in January’s Dubai Desert Classic. His sharp form gives him an early edge on Rahm and other players reacclimating to tournament competition.
With a purse north of $20 million up for grabs, LIV golfers old and new are eager to collect an immediate payday. But at the quirky El Camaleón course putting a premium on accuracy and course management, Niemann rates the man to beat according to expert predictions.