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Idea of LIV Golf rebel winning The Open at St Andrews is the thing of nightmares for R&A chiefs

IT IS the nightmare scenario striking fear into the heart of the golfing establishment.

After a week of pomp and  ceremony to mark this 150th Open Championship, the idea of a LIV Golf rebel parading the Claret Jug on the 18th green of the Old Course at St Andrews is excruciating for R&A chiefs.

Patrick Reed openly mocked PGA Tour chiefs by donning this LIV cap

Phil Mickelson lifting the Claret Jug at the Old Course would be ‘won in the eye’ for the golfing establishment

The Open gets under way on Thursday morning with the acrid scent of gunpowder drifting on the coastal breeze across these historic links.

There are plenty of serious title  contenders who have joined the Saudi-backed tour — threatening to wreck golf’s old world order, while pandering to human-rights abusers looking to ‘sportswash’ their barbaric regime.

Among that rogues’ gallery are leading Americans Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed.

Reed, the Ryder Cup bogeyman,  brazenly practised here yesterday with LIV Golf plastered across his baseball cap and T-shirt.

And there’s Phil Mickelson — the 2013 Open champion who described the Saudis as ‘scary motherf***ers’, then pluckily overcame his fear in exchange for a shedload of Saudi cash.

European Ryder Cup heroes like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are also bathing in the blood money.

The next LIV Golf event in a fortnight’s time is being held at Bedminster, New Jersey, a course owned by former US President Donald Trump.

Saudi prize money at a Trump venue? Perhaps they will ask Vladimir Putin or Darth Vader to hit the opening tee shots and be done with it.


Next year, the LIV circus may well roll up at Turnberry — the Scottish course chucked off The Open rota because it is also owned by Trump.

The PGA Tour has banned the rebels indefinitely, while the European-based DP World Tour has had to put their own three-tournament bans on the back burner, following legal challenges.

LIV’s chief executive, the former Open champion Greg Norman — banned from this week’s  celebrations — has promised that his Saudi paymasters will foot his players’ legal bills.

It is all-out civil war, and there will be several rebels and loyalists marking each other’s cards here today. R&A chief  executive Martin Slumbers came out with all guns blazing in defence of the status quo yesterday.

He suggested that it could change entry requirements to make it nigh-on impossible for any LIV rebels to compete in next year’s Open at Hoylake.

He insisted the rebels were “entirely driven by money” and claimed they have the potential to wreck the current merit-based pathway to the top.

The Saudi threat is being treated with deadly seriousness.

The old blazer brigade do not wish to get caught with their plus-fours down.

Liv critics Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have been given R&A membership

Slumbers was, however, less convincing when pressed about Saudi human-rights atrocities, given that the Saudi International event was part of the European Tour for three successive years.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — two of the most outspoken critics of LIV Golf — were honoured with membership of the R&A yesterday.

Either would be a popular winner. Woods, with only one properly  functioning leg, would be the  miracle story.

He heads out at 3pm with England’s US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

McIlroy is bidding to end an eight-year wait to add to his four Major titles, when he tees off this morning alongside reigning champion Collin Morikawa and one of the bookies’ favourites, Xander Schauffele.

There are fears that the Old Course might prove too short, too flat and too easy for the game’s big-hitters — especially with only moderate winds forecast for all four days.

The talk has been of a first-ever Major round of 59, which would slash four shots off the course record co-owned by McIlroy.

Slumbers said: “Mother Nature is not destined to give us any rain and probably not going to give us as much wind as we like. But we’ve got other ways of being able to set up the golf course.

“But 59 is 13 under par around this golf course.

“There’s 7,300 yards. It’s got greens that are running very slowly. It’s got fairways where the ball is bouncing 50 yards — and more if it catches the downslope.

“So 13 under par around that . . . I’ll tell you what, if someone shoots that, I will be the first person on the 18th green to shake their hand because they will have played outstanding golf.”

Slumbers boasted, accurately, of a post-pandemic golfing boom at grass-roots level — and spectator levels are also off the scale.

There were 1.3million applications made for the 290,000 tickets available across the week. The days of walk-up crowds are now consigned to the history books.

Will these vast galleries be tempted to heckle the Saudi rebels?
R&A chiefs would not normally approve of such an etiquette breach.
But they might just make an exception this week.