At the British Open, it’s the PGA Tour faithful against LIV Golf

St. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods was winding down the Old Course Friday, perhaps forever, and Rory McIlroy was just getting started.

As they exchanged thoughtful glances and walked in opposite directions on parallel fairways — Woods on the 18th hole, McIlroy on the first — he felt a passing of the torch. But perhaps unleashing a lightsaber was more appropriate as McIlroy went to battle the dark side at this 150th British Open.

This is an exaggeration, of course. After all, it’s just golf, and golf in a beautiful setting, especially in bright and favorable conditions that continued to prevail for most of the afternoon, with banks of cumulus clouds dotting the green and the lush slopes of golf’s ancestral home.

It was quite the panorama, as it has been for centuries, but the landscape of the sport is changing rapidly, with new allies and enemies being made over the breakaway, mega-money LIV Golf Invitational series.

Just a few months ago, there were only golfers. Now there are golfers and LIV golfers, and while today’s rebels have a habit of becoming tomorrow’s establishment, for now the rebels are wearing black hats because of their Saudi-backed tour and their grasp of easy money, whatever it may be. It’s embarrassing for everyone.

“Everybody seems to be against us and that’s a good thing,” said Talor Gooch, the LIV golfer who is tied for eighth at seven under par heading into Saturday’s third round. “It kind of ties us together, I guess.”

The link works both on and off the course. At the Dunvegan Hotel, a popular St. Andrews pub near the 18th hole, patrons often booed the LIV golfers on Friday as they appeared on television coverage of the Open.

There were many scofflaws on the early leaderboard, and when McIlroy took off his hat at Woods on the first hole and moved into the lead, Dustin Johnson, the former No. 1 and highest-ranked player at LIV, was the rebel in charge.

But by the end of the second round, Johnson, who was 9-under par, was on the PGA Tour (at least until the next round of apostasy).

Cameron Smith, Australia’s top player, was 13-under, followed by Cameron Young, the first-round leader from the United States, at 11-under. In third place at 10 under were McIlroy and Victor Hovland of Norway, who made the shot of the day from 140 yards for eagle in the rough on the par-4 15th hole.

“I was a little concerned about going too far to the right,” he said. “But it straightened out and somehow landed on that side of the slope softly and just fell in. It was unbelievable.”

With such beautiful fields and lucky breaks are the major championships won, but there will be many more unexpected jumps on the undulating and increasingly unforgiving ledges of the old course.

“We had that rain this morning that was holding it back, I think, that only slowed us down a touch,” said Smith, who had a mid-pack starting time Friday. “We were able to hit some shots that we didn’t yesterday, but I still think he’s going to be really solid and fast.” This course opens very quickly. It will be a challenge, for sure.”

And yet Woods’ record winning score of 19 at St Andrews in 2000 certainly looks under threat. He won’t be the one to challenge him after shooting nine over two rounds and missing out, just as he did in the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews.

But Friday was far more bittersweet: bittersweet because Woods, at this diminished stage, is nowhere near the player he once was in Scotland and beyond; Sweet because he could feel the cheers and appreciation from the crowd and his colleagues.

“As I drove further down the fairway, I saw Rory right there,” he said on the 18th hole. “He gave me a tip of the hat. It was really cool, I would get away from the guys when they were coming out and I would go in, just respect. And with the level of brotherhood among the players, it’s nice to see that and feel that.”

McIlroy, 33, understood the symbolism, but preferred a different scenario as he started with a round of 68.

“It would have been a cool moment if it was under eight than over eight or whatever,” McIlroy said. “I just hope, everyone hopes, that this is not the end of his old course career. I think he deserves, and we deserve, another crack at him.”

Woods, often nervous and tight-lipped after poor performances, was expansive and forthcoming on Friday. After playing just to win most of his career, it seemed that just participating was enough for peace of mind after a car accident that badly damaged his right leg 17 months ago.

“I’ve gotten pretty close to Tiger these last few years,” said McIlroy, a Northern Irishman who lives near The Woods in the golf enclave of Jupiter, Florida. And we all want to see him do well. He was our whole hero growing up, even though I’m maybe a little bit older than the other boys. We want to see him still competing there and this week has obviously been tough for him, but we’re all behind him.”

Woods said he had no immediate plans to compete again and wasn’t sure if and when he would be able to play a fuller schedule. In this minimalist comeback, he played in three majors and only three majors, starting with the Masters in April.

“I understand the battle is tougher, but it’s tough to walk around and play 18 holes,” Woods said. “People have no idea what I have to go through and the hours of work on my body, pre and post, every day to do what I just did. That’s what people don’t understand.”

He was hardly the only golf luminary to crash on the old course. Colin Morikawa, the defending British Open champion, missed out on a stroke after failing to keep pace with McIlroy in their group and finishing one over.

South African Louis Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 St Andrews Open, will also miss the weekend. So will Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, LIV tour mates and former major champions.

Cards and stars have been reshuffled in haste and no one knows how the game or this historic Open Championship will play out. But it’s clear that if the final holes come down to, say, Johnson vs. McIlroy for the Claret Jug on Sunday, it won’t be perceived inside or outside the game as simply Johnson vs. McIlroy.

strength be with them.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.