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    Mickelson and LIV Golf Attract Fans and Anger to Oregon

    Participants in the Saudi-backed event “have turned their backs on the crime of murder,” one critic said. But spectators just wanted to see their favorite players.NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Even as Phil Mickelson and other marquee players teed off to applause on Thursday in a Saudi government-backed tournament outside Portland, the golfers were excoriated in a protest and an affiliated television ad by family members and survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.It was a sign of the divisive nature of the start-up LIV Golf series, and a jarring contrast to the enthusiasm of the gallery that followed Mickelson around the course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, chanting such encouragement as “Man of the people, Phil, man of the people.”The Sept. 11 family members held a news conference Thursday morning to express their vehement opposition to the first of five LIV tournaments being held this year in the United States. And they sponsored a television ad that pilloried the tournament and the involvement of such stars as Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.The 30-second ad mentioned Saudi links to the terrorist attacks and noted that 15 of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia. It also made reference to the death of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a street in Portland in 2016. A Saudi community college student facing charges disappeared before trial and was apparently spirited back home by the Saudi authorities.The ad showed photographs of Mickelson and other stars playing here, gave out the Pumpkin Ridge phone number and criticized the Saudis for using the tactic known as sportswashing to attempt to cleanse their dismal record on human rights.“We’ll never forgive Pumpkin Ridge or the players for helping Saudi Arabia cover up who they really are,” the ad said. It continued: “Don’t let the Saudi government try to clean up its image using American golf tournaments.”The family of Terrance Aiken, who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, protested the Saudi-backed LIV Golf event on Thursday.Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian, via Associated PressTen Sept. 11 family members and one survivor of the attacks traveled to the Portland area to protest the tournament. They said they tried unsuccessfully to meet with some LIV golfers at a hotel on Thursday morning.Brett Eagleson, 36, whose father, Bruce, died in the collapse of the south tower of the World Trade Center, called the Saudi endeavor “shameful” and “disgraceful” and called on the LIV golfers to understand and acknowledge the kingdom’s links to the attacks, which took nearly 3,000 lives.He called on Mickelson to “be a man, step up, accept the truth of who you’re getting in bed with.”The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sept. 11 Commission, in its 2004 report, found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Al Qaeda, which carried out the attacks. But there has been speculation of involvement by other, lower-ranking officials, and an F.B.I. investigation discovered circumstantial evidence of such support, according to a 2020 report by The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica.Tim Frolich, a banker from Brooklyn who escaped from the 80th floor of the south tower but severely injured his left foot and ankle while running from the tower’s collapse, said the golfers had been “bought off” and were accepting “blood money” from the LIV series. The Saudi-sponsored tour offered signing bonuses, some reported to be in the nine figures, to lure some golfers like Mickelson from the PGA Tour.“This is nothing more than a group of very talented athletes who appear to have turned their backs on the crime of murder,” said Frolich, who will turn 58 this month.Mickelson was not made available to reporters on Thursday. In an interview published in February, he told his biographer, Alan Shipnuck, that the Saudis were “scary” and had a “horrible record on human rights,” including the 2018 killing and dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Mickelson later apologized for his remarks. He joined LIV Golf in June.No official attendance figures were given for the three-day tournament’s opening round, played under a cloudless sky with temperatures in the 70s. But the crowd to watch mostly aging players in decline was perhaps only a third of the daily attendance of 25,000 or so at a typical event on the rival PGA Tour. Mickelson, 52, finished the round at three over par, eight strokes behind the leader, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico. Still, Mickelson has a vocal and dedicated following.A number of spectators interviewed said they were simply interested in seeing a sporting event and avoiding geopolitics.“It’s messy, potentially, but I’m just here to watch golf and kind of block out all of that stuff,” said Stacy Wilson, 44, of Vancouver, Wash., a longtime fan of Mickelson’s who said she was taking advantage of an opportunity to watch him play in person. “I just choose to have tunnel vision about it and enjoy the game.”Some spectators noted that President Biden would be engaging with the Saudis in a trip there in mid-July. Others said they found it a double standard that golfers were being singled out when China has benefited from hosting two Olympics and from $10 billion in reported investments from N.B.A. team owners despite the country’s poor human rights record.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    LIV Golf Is Drawing Big Names and Heavy Criticism in Oregon

    As golfers arrive for the $25 million Saudi-backed tournament, a mayor, some 9/11 families, a U.S. senator and some Pumpkin Ridge club members have expressed outrage.NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — The Saudi government-backed LIV Golf Invitational series arrives in the United States on Thursday as it continues to roil a genteel sport with a slogan that promises, “Golf, but louder.” Except this is probably not the kind of noise its supporters had in mind.There is vehement opposition by some to holding the three-day tournament at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about 20 miles northwest of Portland. The disapproval has come from politicians, a group of 9/11 survivors and family members, club members who have resigned in protest and at least one outspoken club board member. Critics have decried what they describe as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to use sports to soften the perception in the West of its grim human rights record.Portland is the first of five LIV (a Roman numeral referring to the 54-hole format) tournaments to be held in the United States this year. The newly formed tour, with its lucrative prize money and eight-figure participation fees, has quickly become a threat to the long-established PGA Tour as marquee players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have joined the Saudi endeavor.The Portland tournament will take place as local fury still simmers from the 2016 death of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old high school student who was killed while crossing a Portland street by a driver traveling nearly 60 miles an hour. A Saudi community college student, facing felony charges of manslaughter and hit and run for Smart’s death, removed a tracking device and disappeared before trial, returning home apparently with the assistance of Saudi officials.Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has been insistently seeking justice for Smart and beseeching the White House to hold the Saudis more accountable. He has criticized the LIV golf tournament, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, as an attempt to cleanse the country’s human rights reputation, a tactic known as sportswashing.Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said the Saudis could not have picked “a more insulting and painful place to hold a golf tournament.”Jason Andrew for The New York Times“No matter how much they cough up, they’re not going to be able to wash away” that reputation, Wyden said in an interview. Referring to Smart’s death, he added, “The Saudis could not have picked a more insulting and painful place to hold a golf tournament.”Teri Lenahan, the mayor of tiny North Plains, population 3,440, has signed a letter with 10 other mayors from the area objecting to the LIV tournament, though they acknowledge they cannot stop it. Some members of Pumpkin Ridge have resigned in protest.Some family members and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have planned a news conference for Thursday to discuss what they called the golfers’ “willing complicity” to take money from a country whose citizenry included 15 of the 19 hijackers.Critics of the tournament note that American intelligence officials concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, ordered the killing and dismemberment of the dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018; that 81 men were executed in Saudi Arabia in a single day in March, calling into question the fairness of its criminal justice system; and that Saudi women did not receive permission to drive until 2018 after a longstanding ban and still must receive permission from a male relative to make many decisions in their lives.“I really felt it was a moral obligation to speak out and say we cannot support this golf tournament because of where the funds are coming from to support it,” Lenahan said in an interview. “The issue is the Saudi government publicly executed people, oppresses women and considers them second-class citizens. And they killed a journalist and dismembered him. It’s disgusting.”Escalante Golf, a Texas firm that owns the Pumpkin Ridge course, did not respond to requests for comment.The LIV tournament will go on, playing out against a backdrop of realpolitik. As a candidate, President Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for the murder of Khashoggi. But Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia in mid-July, seeking, among other things, relief from the oil-rich kingdom for spiking gasoline prices in the United States.In truth, the issue of human rights frequently takes a back seat to financial and marketing concerns in the realm of international sports. China, for instance, was named to host the Winter Olympics in 2022 and the Summer Games in 2008. And the N.B.A. does robust business there. A recent ESPN report said the league’s principal team owners have more than $10 billion invested in China.Greg Norman, the golfing legend who is the face of the LIV series, recently claimed that the PGA Tour had 23 sponsors doing more than $40 billion worth of business in Saudi Arabia, saying in an interview on Fox News: “The hypocrisy in all this, it’s so loud. It’s deafening.”Greg Norman, above, chief executive and commissioner of LIV Golf, spoke at the LIV Golf Invitational welcome party, right, in Portland, Ore.Chris Trotman/LIV Golf, via Getty ImagesJoe Scarnici/LIV Golf via Getty ImagesThere have been clumsy moments in support of the Saudi involvement in golf. When asked about Khashoggi’s killing last month at a promotional event in the United Kingdom, Norman said, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.”The creation of the LIV tour has resurfaced longstanding questions about athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money.Speaking generally, Wyden, who briefly played college basketball, said the Saudi approach is “really part of an autocratic playbook.” He continued: “They go in and try to buy everybody off, buy their silence,” figuring that “something somebody is going to be upset about on Tuesday, everybody’s going to forget about on Thursday.”The Portland tournament will feature $25 million in prize money, including $5 million for team play and $4 million to the individual winner.At news conferences here, golfers acknowledged the financial attraction of the LIV tour. And they said they respected various opinions about their involvement. Some played down human rights issues, while others, like Sergio García and Lee Westwood, said they felt golf could be a force for good.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    Under Pressure From LIV Golf, the PGA Tour Defends Its Perch

    Jay Monahan, the tour’s commissioner, announced prize money increases for next year to try to appease players and called the rival circuit an “irrational threat” that was trying to “buy the sport.”CROMWELL, Conn. — For the last month, as the upstart, Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit has poached some of the most widely known players from the established PGA Tour, there has been speculation that eventually the rival organizations might have to learn to coexist.But a passionate Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, did not sound conciliatory on Wednesday. Using forceful language in his first news conference since mid-March, Monahan continued to assert the PGA Tour’s primacy, announced a substantial increase in future tour prize money and accused LIV Golf of trying to “buy the sport.”“If this is an arms race, and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete,” Monahan told reporters on the eve of the Travelers Championship in central Connecticut. “The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.“We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi golf league is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”Monahan, who met with about 100 PGA Tour-affiliated players Tuesday, said he told the group that the tour “will ultimately come out of the current challenge stronger because of our loyalty and support of our players and fans.”The LIV Golf series, however, did not let Monahan have the stage to himself Wednesday. About two minutes into Monahan’s news conference, LIV Golf announced that the four-time major champion Brooks Koepka had officially left the PGA Tour to join the alternative tour. LIV Golf also announced a majority of the field for its first tournament in the United States, to begin June 30 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Ore.There was also other news in the sport. As expected, officials for next month’s British Open said they would not bar players aligned with LIV Golf from the major tournament. Several of those golfers, like Koepka, have already qualified for the British Open because of their current world rankings or past major titles. That could change in the future, but as was the case for last week’s U.S. Open outside Boston, British Open officials were unwilling to exclude players who had already met the stated criteria for eligibility at this year’s event.And on the player front, several PGA Tour players at the Travelers Championship privately grumbled about how Koepka, just a week ago, was openly supporting a show of solidarity from a majority of top-tier golfers who have remained loyal to the tour. When asked about Koepka’s defection Wednesday, Rory McIlroy, who is second in the men’s world golf rankings, said: “I’m surprised at a lot of these guys because they say one thing and then they do another.”He added: “But it’s pretty duplicitous on their part.”Asked if he was talking about something Koepka said months ago or recently, McIlroy answered: “The whole way through, in public and private, all of it.”In addition to announcing the PGA Tour’s plans to enhance the payouts at eight tour events next year by $54 million, Monahan continued to pay tribute to his tour’s ethos as a meritocracy in which players are awarded prize money based on performance as opposed to the LIV Golf series where several golfers have signed guaranteed contracts reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars. LIV Golf events also have no cuts, meaning every player is assured at least a six-figure payday.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    As Koepka Leaves for LIV Golf, the PGA Tour Mulls Changes

    Brooks Koepka, a four-time major winner, and another top-20 player committed to the new series Tuesday. In a players’ meeting, the PGA Tour commissioner outlined tweaks that included a revised schedule.Since March, Brooks Koepka has emphatically denied he would consider joining the breakaway, Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.“Money isn’t going to change my life,” Koepka said at the time with a disdainful sneer. As recently as two weeks ago, Koepka was still telling fellow players he was not interested in leaving the PGA Tour.On Tuesday, he defected to the rival LIV Golf circuit, which will hold its second event, outside Portland, Ore., starting on June 30.What changed for Koepka? It would be easy to say there were most likely more than 100 million reasons for him to reverse course since other former PGA Tour players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau have reportedly received nine-figure contracts to align with LIV Golf. The new circuit promises a limited, shortened schedule that gives golfers more flexibility and hosts no-cut tournaments in which every player is guaranteed a hefty payday.But every player who entered the inaugural LIV Golf event outside London earlier this month was suspended by the PGA Tour, and future entrants to upcoming LIV Golf tournaments will be treated similarly.Koepka’s decision is not a surprise — he telegraphed it with a scornful news conference at last week’s U.S. Open outside Boston — but it is another victory for LIV Golf in its fight for credibility against the established PGA Tour. Abraham Ancer of Mexico, who is 31 years old and ranked 20th in the men’s world rankings, also committed to the LIV Golf series on Tuesday.Koepka, 32, who won four major championships between 2017 and 2019, has been injured and struggling for years. His world ranking has slipped to No. 19 this week from No. 1 in 2019. In a bit of irony, Koepka is joining LIV Golf about 10 days after DeChambeau, his longtime antagonist, switched his allegiance. DeChambeau has also been dogged by health issues. Once viewed as a hard-swinging, bulked up game-changing phenomenon who captivated younger fans with his audacious length off the tee, DeChambeau has tumbled from fourth in the rankings to 30th. He was an afterthought at last week’s U.S. Open, finishing tied for 56th. Koepka missed the cut at this year’s Masters Tournament and finished outside the top 50 at last month’s P.G.A. Championship and at last week’s U.S. Open.But Koepka’s exit nonetheless provides another noteworthy bit of unexpected momentum for LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the Private Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Only six weeks ago, there was nearly universal solidarity among the PGA Tour’s player ranks.Each reversal of opinion sends little tremors through the close-knit community of PGA Tour players and has meaning. A fear of getting left behind can pervade the group, as with any other, especially when players keep going back on their word. Their colleagues may ponder: Should I jump ship now, before it’s too late and the top LIV Golf contracts are gone?Some perspective is necessary. A considerable majority of the best young players have remained loyal to the PGA Tour. Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas — ranked first through fifth — affirm their commitment to the PGA Tour weekly. Morikawa did it again Tuesday when he tweeted: “To state for the record, once again, you all are absolutely wrong. I’ve said it since February at Riviera that I’m here to stay on the PGA Tour and nothing has changed.”But it is easy to wonder how many more new faces there might be in the field by June 30, when LIV Golf makes its first appearance in the United States. The full list of entrants is expected this week.How many will be in the field when the upstart tour arrives at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on July 29? That tournament will be held after the mid-July British Open, the last of this year’s major men’s golf championships.Abraham Ancer, 31, also committed to LIV Golf on Tuesday.Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWhat is known is that the pressure continues to ramp up on the PGA Tour to respond to the credible threat LIV Golf is posing. And Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, has the framework of a plan to at least partially appease players attracted to a shorter schedule and greater earnings. (Hint: It looks an awful lot like the LIV Golf schedule and prize money.)A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    At the U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka Is in His Happy Place, and in Contention

    Koepka, who won the Open in 2017 and 2018, has made no secret of focusing on only the four major tournaments. He could be the perfect candidate to join the LIV Golf series. But will he?BROOKLINE, Mass. — As Brooks Koepka strode down the first fairway on a humid Friday morning, one fan shouted his approval of the golfer’s clothing.“It’s a great day to wear white, Brooks. It’s hot out here,” the fan yelled. “Stay cool baby but don’t be afraid to get hot.”Koepka, wearing a white shirt, navy slacks and a pale green cap in the second round of the U.S. Open, heeded the fan’s advice, rebounding from an opening round 73 to post a three-under-par 67.That put him at even par after two rounds and in a familiar position — within striking distance of the lead heading into the weekend at the Country Club. Koepka had made the cut in his last seven U.S. Opens and finished no worse than tied for 18th.Koepka, who won the U.S. Open in 2017 with a score of 16 under par, and won again in 2018, speaks almost paternalistically about the Open. His schedule this season has been tilted toward the majors — those are the only events he has played since late March — and he seems to thrive on the challenges presented by this particular tournament.“I love this event,” he said. “This event has always been good to me.”It’s hard to argue otherwise. Koepka is the most successful U.S. Open player of the last decade.No one else in the 156-man field has won two U.S. Opens. The last four times he has played the tournament — he missed the Open in 2020 because of knee and hip injuries — he has two victories, in 2017 and 2018, a second-place finish in 2019 and a tie for fourth in 2021, finishes that have earned Koepka more than $6 million. In those four events, only four players — Gary Woodland, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English, have finished ahead of Koepka.“That’s pretty cool,” Koepka said, while adding, “I wish it was less.”He is one of only seven players to win consecutive U.S. Opens; the last to do it before Koepka was Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.But given his lack of tournament play this year, it was difficult to predict how well the 32-year-old, four-time major champion — he had back-to-back PGA Championship victories in 2018 and 2019 — would fare. He missed the cut at the Masters. And he attributed his underwhelming performance at the PGA Championship in May — a tie for 55th — to focusing more on his upcoming wedding.“I was waiting for that party,” he said of the weeklong celebration in early June in Turks and Caicos.Afterward, Koepka retreated to his home in Jupiter, Fla., worked for four days with his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and dismissed any talk of rustiness from his layoff when he arrived at the Country Club.Koepka celebrating with his caddie Ricky Elliott after sinking his final putt to win the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock“I’ve had a lot of other stuff going on,” he said. “Sometimes, look, golf is great and all and I love it but at the same time, I’ve got other stuff I like to do. The wedding was a big thing. Now it’s over with and I can go and play golf.”He became irritated with reporters at his pretournament news conference on Tuesday, chiding them for asking him and other golfers questions about the LIV Golf International series, the Saudi-financed rebel golf tour that has lured stars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with enormous paydays. The tour will play its second event, one of five in the United States, near Portland, Ore., beginning on June 30.Koepka’s star power and penchant for downtime make him an ideal target for the upstart tour, which so far has announced eight, 54-hole events with shotgun starts, no cut and huge purses even for the last-place finishers. (Players who have resigned their PGA Tour membership, or been suspended from the Tour, because they joined the LIV Golf series, can still play the four major tournaments that are not run by the PGA Tour, although that could change.)Koepka, ranked 19th in the world, also could command a hefty signing bonus. Mickelson has been reported to have received as much as $200 million and Johnson as much as $150 million to join LIV Golf, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Koepka’s brother, Chase, plays on the tour.“I’m here. I’m here at the U.S. Open,” Brooks Koepka said when asked about LIV Golf. “You are all throwing this black cloud over the U.S. Open. I’m tired of all this stuff.”A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 5A new series. More

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    A Weird, Wild and Entirely Typical Day at the U.S. Open

    It was a topsy-turvy second round on a vexing golf course as famed and anonymous players jockeyed up and down the leaderboard and turkeys paid a visit.BROOKLINE, Mass. — M.J. Daffue of South Africa, ranked 296th in the world, was not invited to the hospitality tent alongside the par-5 14th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday. But when his tee shot came to rest on the tent’s carpeted balcony next to a tree trunk, fence railing and overhanging, leaf-filled branches, Daffue was welcomed to the party.Eschewing the safety of a free drop on nearby grass, Daffue, who was leading the U.S. Open at the time, decided to use a 4-wood to smack his ball around the tree trunk, over the railing and under the branches to the 14th green 278 yards away.Nick Faldo, an NBC analyst, yelped: “What is he thinking?””I’m coming right over you, sir.” Solo leader @mjdaffue13 hits one off the deck…literally. #USOpen pic.twitter.com/5bo0YIIgpe— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2022
    As fans held drinks tinkling with ice nearby, Daffue implausibly curved his shot away from all the danger and watched as his golf ball settled feet off the 14th green to set up a chance at an eagle that would extend his improbable lead.“Made bogey instead, unfortunately,” said Daffue, who never again held the second-round lead. “It was kind of a crazy day out there.”Daffue could have been speaking for the entire field. While the first round of the 122nd U.S. Open on Thursday featured the theater of a first-ever face-off between PGA Tour loyalists and rebel golfers who have defected to the Saudi-financed LIV Golf Invitational series, on Friday that drama had receded at the Country Club outside Boston.It was replaced by something more typical for a U.S. Open: a topsy-turvy day in vexing golf-course conditions that had a cavalcade of famed and anonymous players jockeying up and down the leaderboard.An hour before the sun set, Joel Dahmen, who has missed the cut in four of the nine major tournaments he has entered and is ranked 130th, was tied for the lead at the halfway mark with Collin Morikawa, who at 25 is at the vanguard of the youth movement overtaking professional golf.Morikawa shot a four-under-par 66 on Friday to move to five under par for the tournament. Dahmen, a popular, convivial presence on the tour known for the bucket hat that rarely comes off his head on the golf course, matched Morikawa with a steady round of 68 after shooting 67 in the first round. Dahmen, 34, has never finished higher than tied for 10th at a major championship and has never held the 36-hole lead at the PGA Tour event. He did not qualify for the event until June 6 and almost skipped it to concentrate on the rest of the PGA Tour season.Late Friday, Dahmen was still not awed by his standing after two rounds.“This is really cool, but it’s really all for naught if you go lay an egg on the weekend,” he said. “This is fun, but it would be really fun if I was doing this again Saturday and Sunday.”An eclectic fivesome of golfers were one stroke behind the co-leaders: Jon Rahm, who is ranked second worldwide; Rory McIlroy, who survived a scare on the third hole when he needed three swings to get his ball out of thick greenside fescue but still shot 69; Hayden Buckley, a PGA Tour rookie; Beau Hossler, 27, who played his first U.S. Open as a teenager; and Aaron Wise, who has one career PGA Tour victory.Morikawa noted that there were more than 20 players within five strokes of the lead.“No one has kind of run away with it,” he said. “But I guess that’s to be expected on a challenging golf course at the U.S. Open. But right now, my game feels really good and the last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend. Hopefully, we can kind of make some separation somehow.”A fan, bottom left, after being hit by a ball from Sam Horsfield on the third hole on Friday.Julio Cortez/Associated PressThe unpredictability of day was personified by Buckley, 26, who did not play competitive golf until he was a junior in high school and walked on to the golf team when he attended the University of Missouri.“It’s all happened kind of fast to be sure,” Buckley, who had a victory on the minor league Korn Ferry Tour before earning his PGA Tour card late last year, said. “But I felt pretty relaxed and confident today.”Buckley faltered in the middle of his second round when he had three bogeys in five holes. But Buckley rallied to shoot four under in his final seven holes.There was some normalcy to the second round. Scottie Scheffler, who sits atop the men’s world rankings, shot a three-under-par 67 to vault into contention. Scheffler, who won this year’s Masters Tournament and three other 2022 PGA Tour events, jump-started his round by pitching in for an eagle on the 14th hole. He did not do it from the hospitality tent balcony where Daffue found his golf ball, but his tee shot bounded into the thick rough 40 yards right of the hole.Then, in a scene that fit the day’s uncommon nature, Scheffler had to wait nearly a minute while a turkey sauntered across the 14th green. Smiling, Scheffler, who shot even par 70 on Thursday, reset his focus and knocked the ball in the hole. With a birdie on the 16th hole and two closing pars, Scheffler finished at three-under par for the tournament.Turkeys on the fairway of the 10th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated PressCollin Morikawa, the seventh-ranked player worldwide, began his round at one-under par but quickly stormed up the leaderboard with birdies on the 12th, 14th and 17th holes. (He started his round on the 10th hole.) Morikawa, winner of the 2020 P.G.A. Championship, first took the second-round lead with a fourth birdie on the first hole before registering his first bogey on the fourth hole. But he closed with a flourish, a birdie on the par-5 eighth hole to finish with four-under-par 66.Morikawa has four top-10 finishes this year, including fifth at the Masters.Jon Rahm, the U.S. Open defending champion, began his round at one under par like Morikawa and teed off on the 10th hole. He eagled the short par-5 14th and deftly putted as the sun emerged on Friday afternoon and subtly dried out the fast, undulating greens. Rahm had three birdies and two bogeys.Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club when he was 18, was among the first-round leaders when he shot 68 on Thursday. He continued his consistent, measured play with a 70 on Friday.Two familiar names also climbed onto the first page of the leaderboard Friday: Sam Burns, 25, who has won twice since March and finished second in another event, shot a 67 to move to two-under for the championship, and Brooks Koepka, the last man to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, shot 67 after an unsteady 73 in the first round. Koepka was recently married, and he conceded the wedding limited the amount of practice time he could devote to his golf game. But he said he has regained his confidence with more work out of competition.Phil Mickelson improved on his erratic 78 from Thursday’s first round to shoot a three-over-par 73 in the second round, but his putting continued to be the worst part of his game and he did not make the cut.Mickelson, usually garrulous, did not talk after his round on Thursday and kept things brief on Friday. Of his comeback after five months away from competition, Mickelson said: “I missed competing, but I also enjoyed some time away.”Other prominent players to miss the cut included Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen, who have joined Mickelson on the LIV Golf tour, and Billy Horschel, who won the Memorial Tournament earlier in the month. Also not eligible for the final weekend rounds will be Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.Daffue, who finished at one under par for the tournament, was more than content to have more golf to play.“I’ve had goose bumps thinking about it,” he said. “I had an up-and-down day today, but to me, it’s nothing but good. I’m still going to play tomorrow in the U.S. Open.” More

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    Ahead of U.S. Open, Players Take Swings at Saudi-Backed LIV Golf

    Rory McIlroy has criticized LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed series splintering the men’s game, as more exhibition than competition. On Tuesday, he found an ally in Jon Rahm.BROOKLINE, Mass. — For six months, Rory McIlroy, now in his 13th year on the PGA Tour and a four-time major champion, has been the most outspoken critic of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit rattling the professional ranks.On Tuesday, days after LIV Golf held its inaugural tournament outside London, McIlroy’s denigration of the rival league grew louder, and he found an ally in Jon Rahm, the defending champion at this week’s U.S. Open at the Country Club outside Boston. Referring to his victory at the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open last week and comparing it with LIV Golf’s event, McIlroy said: “Last week in Canada, LIV will never have that. Last week meant something. What they were doing over there meant nothing.”McIlroy has long stressed that the LIV Golf series, whose major shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia and which pays golfers hefty appearance fees with guarantees that everyone in the field will be awarded a substantial payout, is more of an exhibition than a competition. At the midpoint of nearly every PGA Tour event, for example, half the golfers in the field — those with the highest scores — are eliminated from the tournament and sent away without any monetary award.That led Rahm on Tuesday to describe LIV Golf’s first event as “not a golf tournament,” because it lacks cuts.He added: “I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for a hundred years. That’s what I want to see. Yeah, money is great, but I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world.”McIlroy was unsparing on the same topic, especially when discussing the few younger players, such as Bryson DeChambeau, 28, who have chosen LIV Golf over the PGA Tour. Most of the big names committed to LIV are considerably older and have been lured by upfront contracts valued at $150 million or more. Phil Mickelson, 51, reportedly received close to $200 million to sign on.McIlroy, left, practicing with Jon Rahm, the reigning champion at the U.S. Open. Rahm on Tuesday described LIV Golf’s first event as “not a golf tournament,” because it lacked cuts.Amanda Sabga/EPA, via Shutterstock“I understand, because a lot of these guys are in their late 40s, or in Phil’s case, early 50s,” McIlroy, a 33-year-old from Northern Ireland, said. “Yeah, I think everyone in this room, and they would say to you themselves, that their best days are behind them.“That’s why I don’t understand it for the guys that are a similar age to me going over there because I would like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me. And I think theirs are, too. So that’s where it feels like you’re taking the easy way out.”Asked why he has been so impassioned in his allegiance to the PGA Tour, McIlroy answered: “I just think it’s the right thing to do.”He then mentioned the hundreds of millions of dollars that PGA Tour events have raised for myriad charities and added: “That is a massive legacy and something that I don’t think people talk enough about.”It is also true that McIlroy’s assessment of the LIV Golf series has been mistaken in the past. In February, he called the venture “dead in the water.” When asked about that misjudgment on Tuesday, even McIlroy’s response was meant to be something of a punch in the nose to those who turned away from the PGA Tour.“I guess I took a lot of players’ statements at face value,” he said. “I guess that’s what I got wrong. You had people committed to the PGA Tour — that’s the statements that were put out. People that went back on that. I took them at their word, and I was wrong.”Because the United States Golf Association said it would not bar eligible players, Phil Mickelson can play at the U.S. Open despite defecting to LIV Golf.Charlie Riedel/Associated PressFinally, McIlroy was asked if he had lost respect for Mickelson, the most renowned player to defect. His response was telling for how it began.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    Rain, Wind, Cold, Tornado Warnings and After Five Days, a Champion

    The Players Championship was battered by some of the worst weather PGA Tour pros had ever seen. Eventually, Cameron Smith of Australia prevailed.PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — There was an early omen that this year’s Players Championship, a signature event of the PGA Tour, would radically defy golf tournament convention. It arrived before the sun rose for Thursday’s first round in the form of an ominous-sounding weather delay, delivered as the golfers slept.In the end, most of them probably felt like they never woke up, as the ensuing five days of golf unfolded like a vengeful nightmare.“It was brutal out there,” Rory McIlroy, the four-time major winner, said of conditions that included 40 mile-an-hour winds, more than four inches of dousing rain, tornado warnings and temperatures that occasionally dipped to the mid-30s. As he spoke, McIlroy’s eyes almost appeared glassy. His face was wind burned, and his trousers were sullied by mud.Not long after McIlroy retreated to the clubhouse, the agreeable tour veteran Kevin Kisner described his tournament journey in spiritual terms: “It was just hit and pray.”As it turned out, the first weather delay Thursday was the literal calm before the storm and perhaps the last moment when the environment would be even remotely close to typical at the 2022 Players, an event that is meant to serve as a pre-spring celebration of warm-weather golf. Early Thursday it was not yet raining sideways on the T.P.C. Sawgrass golf course; it was just inevitable.Doug Ghim with his caddie Micah Fugitt on No. 10 during the final round on Monday.Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesWhat followed was something rarely seen on the PGA Tour — golf that made the pros curse like sailors and fling clubs into ponds while the everyday golfer watched at home and snickered: “Welcome to our world, Mr. Fancy Pants.”The pros, who generally did not complain about the conditions, understood. Max Homa wrote on Twitter: “Today was basically the worst day ever to play a golf tourney at Sawgrass but seemed like the best day ever to watch one. I was very jealous of the spectators.”Postponed to Monday, the event was won by a rising star on the tour, Cameron Smith, 28, of Australia. Smith pulled away from a handful of rivals with five birdies on the final nine to win by one stroke over Anirban Lahiri of India. It was the second PGA Tour victory this season for Smith, who has 10 finishes in the top 10 in the past year.Afterward, Smith even smiled.Others left the golf course shuddering, and not just because of their soggy clothing and freezing fingers. At times, the battered field — from Thursday to Monday there were more than 82 rounds with a score of 75 or higher — appeared to be in a half-numb daze.Sam Burns, who was in contention for much of the event, could be heard asking his caddie after one shot: “What day is today?”On Friday, after Matthew Wolff yanked an ugly shot way left and into the pond alongside the 18th fairway, he gently flipped his club, one-handed, into the pond. Apparently, he didn’t want anything to remind him of his nine-over-par 81.Workers squeeged water from the fairway after rain delayed the start of the first round.Erik S Lesser/EPA, via ShutterstockOn Saturday, when the wind was blowing the strongest, 29 tee shots aimed at the famed 17th hole par-3 island green splashed into the enveloping water hazard. On Thursday and Friday, only four tee shots had been deposited in the water.Brooks Koepka, ranked 18th in the world men’s golf rankings, was forced to play the devilish 17th hole twice on Saturday because his first round was postponed. He made a double bogey the first time on the 17th tee and then had a triple bogey on his next try.Then Koepka knocked his cap off his head to reveal hair dyed blond and walked away laughing.“I don’t laugh too often in competition,” Koepka said later. “But you know, this was different.” Koepka shot 81 and tied his career high for a tour round.Russell Henley had a different kind of daily double. He made a dispiriting double bogey on the 10th hole, then made a rare albatross — a 2 on a par 5 — on the 11th hole.Ian Poulter was so determined to finish his round on Thursday, he ran onto the 17th green and sprinted over to the 18th tee so he could be sure to get off the T.P.C. Sawgrass layout before the sun set.The wind and frigid temperatures over the weekend also had the golfers making some peculiar wardrobe choices.Joel Dahmen wore sweatpants beneath his form-fitting golf pants. Most players went with the more traditional thermal underwear. Paul Casey kept a hand warmer in each pants pocket. Viktor Hovland shoved his hands inside what looked like a pair of oversized oven mitts after each shot — and Hovland is from Norway.The wind was fierce and swirling in unpredictable patterns. Keegan Bradley, faced with a 95-yard shot downwind on Saturday, hit a short 9-iron. Later, in the same round, Keegan had 208 yards to the flagstick with the wind at his back. He hit 9-iron again. Bradley shot a fairly pedestrian score for a tour player, one-under-par 71, and yet, he proclaimed it “one of the best rounds of my life.”Collin Morikawa bundled up to stay warm during the second round.David Cannon/Getty ImagesSome of golf’s biggest stars, including Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele did not make the cut. Schauffele arrived at T.P.C. Sawgrass for Sunday’s second round tied for ninth in the tournament and left tied for 90th.But not everyone in the field will recall the 2022 Players Championship with consternation and a chill in their bones and down their spine.Shane Lowry of Ireland made a hole in one at the 17th hole on Sunday and zealously celebrated for almost five minutes with fans behind the tee. For a while, it looked as if Lowry might joyously leap into the water surrounding the hole.He thought better of it. Some parts might have been frozen. More