At the British Open, It’s the PGA Tour Faithful Against LIV Golf

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods was finishing at the Old Course on Friday, possibly for good, and Rory McIlroy was just getting started.

As they exchanged understanding glances and walked in opposite directions on parallel paths – Woods on the 18th hole, McIlroy on the first – it felt like a passing of the torch. But perhaps a lightsaber pass was more in order as McIlroy headed to lead the charge against the dark side at this 150th British Open.

This exaggerates, of course. It’s just golf, after all, and golf in a beautiful place, especially in the clear, warm conditions that again prevailed for most of the afternoon, with banks of cumulus clouds watching on the burnished greens and fairways of the ancestral home of golf.

It was quite a sight, as it has been for centuries, but the sport’s landscape is changing rapidly, with new allies and enmities created during the breakaway and mega-money LIV Golf Invitational series.

Just a few months ago, there were only golfers. Now there are golfers and LIV golfers, and although the rebels of today are used to becoming the establishment of tomorrow, for now the rebels are wearing the black hats because of Saudi support of their tour and feeling like they’re grabbing the easy money, no matter how uncomfortable, everyone feels uncomfortable.

“Everybody, it seems, is against us, and that’s okay,” said Talor Gooch, an LIV golfer who is tied for eighth at seven under going into Saturday’s third round. “It kind of brought us together, I think.”

The linkage works both ways on and off the course. At the Dunvegan Hotel, the popular St. Andrews pub near the 18th hole, patrons often booed LIV golfers on Friday when they appeared on TV about The Open.

Many of them scoffed at the top-ranking, and when McIlroy raised his cap to Woods on the first hole and walked out, Dustin Johnson, the former No. 1 and top-ranked LIV player, was the rebel in charge.

But by the end of the second round, Johnson, at nine under par, had been caught by the PGA Tour (at least until the next round of no-shows).

Cameron Smith, Australia’s best player, was in the lead at 13 under, followed by Cameron Young, the United States’ first-round leader, at 11 under. Tied for third at under 10, Norway’s McIlroy and Viktor Hovland had the shot of the day when roughing up from about 140 yards for an eagle on the par-4 15th hole.

“I was a little worried it was going too far to the right,” he said. “But he straightened up and landed softly on that side slope and just seeped in. It was amazing.”

With such thin margins and lucky breaks major championships have been won, but there will be many more unexpected bounces on the undulating and increasingly unforgiving fairways of the Old Course.

“We had this intermittent rain this morning, I think, which slowed us down a bit,” said Smith, who had a start time in the middle of the field on Friday. “We managed to hit a few shots that we couldn’t hit yesterday, but I still think it’s going to get really firm and fast. This course cooks so fast. It will be a challenge, that’s for sure. »

And yet, Woods’ record score at St. Andrews of 19 under par in 2000 certainly looks threatened. He won’t be the only one to challenge him after shooting nine over par for two rounds and missing the cut, just as he missed in 2015 at the last Open Championship at St. Andrews.

But Friday was much more bittersweet: bitter because Woods, at this diminished stage, is far from the player he once was in Scotland and beyond; sweet because he could feel the compassion and appreciation of the crowd and his colleagues.

“As I walked further along the fairway, I saw Rory right there,” he said of the 18th hole. “He gave me the tip of the hat. It was pretty cool, the nods I got from the guys as they walked out and I walked in, just respect. And in terms of the fraternity of players, it’s good to see that and to feel that.

McIlroy, 33, seized on the symbolism but would have preferred another scenario as he embarked on what turned out to be a round of 68.

“It would have been a cool moment if he had been eight under instead of eight over or whatever,” McIlroy said. “I just hope, everyone hopes, this isn’t the end of his Old Course career. I think he deserves and we deserve that he gets another chance.”

Woods, often dark and low-key after poor performances, was expansive and open on Friday. After playing just to win for most of his career, it seemed like just taking part was enough to give him peace of mind after the car crash that badly damaged his right leg 17 months ago.

“I’ve gotten closer to Tiger in recent years,” said McIlroy, a Northern Irishman based near Woods in the golfing enclave of Jupiter, Florida. “I think we all rallied around him there at Jupiter, and we all want to see him do well. He was our whole hero growing up, although I might be a little older than some of the others. We want to see him compete again, and obviously this week has been a tough week for him, but we’re all behind him.

Woods said he has no immediate plans to compete again and is unsure if and when he returns he will be able to play a fuller schedule. . In this minimalist return, he played at three majors and only three majors, starting with the Masters in April.

“I understand that I’m more battle hardened, but it’s just hard to walk in and play 18 holes,” Woods said. “People have no idea what I have to go through, and hours of body work, before and after, every day to do what I just did. That’s what people don’t understand. »

He wasn’t the only golfing luminary to fail at the Old Course. Collin Morikawa, the defending British Open champion, missed the cut by one shot after failing to keep pace with McIlroy in their group and finishing one over par.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who won an Open at St. Andrews in 2010, will also miss the weekend. It will be the same for Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, other members of the LIV tour and former great champions.

The cards and the stars have been reshuffled in a hurry, and no one knows how the match or this historic Open Championship will unfold. But what is clear is that if Sunday’s final holes come down to, say, Johnson versus McIlroy for the burgundy pitcher, it won’t be seen inside or outside the game as just Johnson against McIlroy.

May the force be with them.

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