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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Hostility in the air ahead of The Open despite PGA Tour, LIV Golf truce

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Golf’s biggest stars will be brought together at The Open this week as the foundations of an uneasy truce between the traditional tours and breakaway LIV Golf series are still being built.

In a shock announcement last month, the PGA and DP World Tours announced plans to merge with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which had bankrolled huge signing bonuses and prize money for players to jump ship to LIV.

But details on how the deal will work remain unknown, even for the world’s leading players who stayed loyal to the PGA Tour.

“They keep saying it’s a player-run organisation (but) we don’t really have the information that we need,” said world number one Scottie Scheffler at last week’s Scottish Open.

Without a concrete deal, the best of the LIV and PGA Tours will not face off again until the Masters next April.

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth and world number six Xander Schauffele are among those to criticise PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, who returns to work later this week after a month-long medical absence, for a lack of transparency.

But Rory McIlroy, who has consistently put himself forward as an unofficial spokesman for the PGA Tour over the past 12 months, said last week he is now “apathetic” towards negotiations.

Defending Open champion Cameron Smith was one of those to cash in on the riches offered by LIV just weeks after lifting the Claret Jug at St Andrews 12 months ago.

The Australian heads to Hoylake fresh from winning the LIV London event earlier this month.

Any suggestion that the LIV defectors would struggle at the majors due to a lack of regular competitive golf has so far been dispelled.

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Smith has finished in the top 10 of both the PGA Championship and US Open this year.

“It’s good seeing old friends,” Smith said on Monday on facing the likes of Scheffler and McIlroy once more.

“We’re still trying to play our best golf out on the LIV Tour and there’s still a lot of competition, especially at the top end there where they push you to play your best to win a golf tournament.”

Another of LIV’s big names Brooks Koepka won his fifth major at the PGA Championship in May and finished second at the Masters.

McIlroy ‘confident’

McIlroy remains stuck on four majors, the last of which came nine years ago.

However, it was at Hoylake that the Northern Irishman lifted his only Claret Jug in 2014 and he heads back to the Royal Liverpool full of confidence after winning the Scottish Open on Sunday with a stunning birdie-birdie finish in blustery conditions.

McIlroy has consistently been banging on the door of success in the past two years.

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The world number two has finished in the top 10 in six of the last seven majors and agonisingly missed out by one shot at the US Open last month.

A frustrating Sunday on the greens at the Los Angeles Country Club was a repeat of last year’s final round at St. Andrews where McIlroy saw a series of putts slip by to be usurped by Smith’s stunning eight under par round.

“It’s nice to have the validation. It’s great racking up top fives and top 10s, but it’s much nicer heading away with a trophy on a Sunday afternoon,” said McIlroy.

“It’s a great shot of confidence and helps having something fresh in my memory. If I hopefully find myself in a similar position next week where I have a chance to win with nine holes to go, I can certainly draw on what I did here.”

Scheffler is also aiming to avoid ending the season empty-handed at the majors despite a stellar year on Tour.

The American’s lowest finish in 16 events in 2023 was a tie for 12th at The Genesis Invitational in February.

Scheffler has two wins to show for it at the Players’ Championship and Phoenix Open but finished 10th in his defence of the Masters, second at the PGA Championship and third at the US Open.

AFP

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