Cameron Smith of Australia shot a lights-out 64 Sunday to surge ahead of Rory McIlroy, hold off Cameron Young, and win the 150th Open Championship. This was fun and dramatic stuff, even if McIlroy was the sentimental favorite. McIlroy, who never really played poorly or made any big mistakes, simply could not get any of his last eight perfectly respectable birdie putts to fall; Smith, meanwhile, went on an incredible tear, birdied five straight to start the back nine and then again on 18, and put just enough distance to outlast Young, who eagled on the final hole. What was also fun, and a relief, is the small handful of LIV pros who made it to the weekend fading out of contention until they eventually became less than a subplot and more of an afterthought.
Golf’s present civil war has not yet reached peak unpleasantness. That day comes when an LIV player wins a major at one of golf’s hallowed venues, and the Saudi-funded enterprise shifts in shape from a cynical exodus to a real-deal incursion. For now it’s just sort of uncomfortably over there on the side, shoveling mountains of cash at a largely ho-hum collection of players and shuffling them into weird combinations for goofy, strikingly Big3-vibed events. That’s probably as fun as this conflict will get, with disgraced defectors further shaming themselves to hype LIV events that sort them into teams called “4 Aces” and “Majesticks” and “Hy Flyers.”
For now, no one not employed by one of the two warring parties has to take this seriously. But let an LIV player win an Open Championship at The Old Course, and anyone who pays even glancing attention to golf as a professional sport will have to start taking seriously the question of which of these two tours is the majors and which the minors, a question that at the moment has a perfectly simple answer. Or, anyway, that is the moment Greg Norman and the Saudi sportswashers dream about and the PGA Tour honchos dread, when it becomes truly impossible to understand the context of the big events without knowing what the hell is going on at those wacky LIV events. Who is the captain of the Smashers? Do the Niblicks have the juice to win in Jeddah? What the fuck is a Cleek? These are questions no self-respecting casual golf fan has any interest in asking, let alone answering.
Perhaps you are looking forward to that moment, for the day when golf is thrown fully into chaos. Fine! But today was not that day. Eleven of the 24 entered LIV pros made the cut at St. Andrews this weekend, including Dustin Johnson, who was briefly atop the leaderboard following his round Friday. For about a day and a half it seemed like the LIV pack would be at the center of the show for the tournament. Talor Gooch, who recently walked back a comment comparing the vibe at an LIV event in Portland to winning the Ryder Cup, described LIV players being galvanized by everyone-is-against-us vibes, and suddenly it seemed very possible to imagine a Sunday with Johnson or Gooch or one of their cohort holding up the Claret Jug and declaring a very visible victory on behalf of the LIV project. But then Johnson shot a 71 on Saturday, Gooch bombed to a 76, and decent finishes by Bryson DeChambeau and Sadom Kaewkanjana left them well short of mattering. Ultimately LIV’s legitimacy and credibility as a tour are not likely to come from the Fireballs defeating the Iron Heads in a tournament broadcast on DAZN. For this thing to ever be taken seriously, eventually one of its guys will need to make the most of those fleeting chances to compete against the PGA Tour’s guys.
It will be eight solid months before golf’s next major championship. That time might’ve been filled with teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing and undie-knotting over what it means for an LIV defector to capture the glory of golf’s oldest and most prestigious championship. Instead the LIV pros will slink back empty-handed to the Punch and the Smash and the Torque or whatever the hell else is going on over there, and may they continue having a great time with all of that.