Henrik Stenson leads LIV event, but Donald Trump circus steals the spotlight

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It wasn’t long before Saturday afternoon, the thinly veiled political undertones surrounding the LIV Golf Tournament at Donald Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club emerged.

The hundreds of spectators who fill the stands behind the first tee eruption in rambunctious chants of “Four more years!” that echoed across the grounds as the former US president in a white polo shirt and red Make America Great Again cap emerged to watch the leading group of Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed and Pachara Khongwatmai begin their second round after the horn fired the shotgun fired. quarter past 1.

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A few yards away Greg Norman, the CEO and face of the controversial Saudi-funded breakout tour, lifted the roof with a sheepish grin and embraced the rowdy atmosphere, even as it was deftly avoided by the official broadcast, which was posted on YouTube. was streamed to about 70,000 viewers in the absence of a TV deal. And that was for a surprise appearance by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Republican congresswoman and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist from Georgia.

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If the first day was a Diet Maga rally, this was Maga Classic. The crowd for the second round of Saturday’s 54-hole, no-cut tournament was slightly larger and certainly louder than Friday’s opening session, when no more than 2,000 spectators descended on Trump National’s 500-acre site at this power plant. farm town in New Jersey 45 miles west of New York City. The formerly abandoned grandstands and grassy knolls along the fairways were dotted with fans as the center act of the $25 million tournament played out under pristine blue skies and comfortable temperatures of 31°C.

Stenson, the joint leader of the night, fresh from his removal as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain last week, shot a two-under-par 69 to extend his lead on the field to nine-under, three strokes better than Dustin Johnson and four for Patrick Reed, Carlos Ortiz and Talor Gooch.

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But it was the former US president who was once again in the spotlight, even as the star-studded field of PGA Tour defectors made the simultaneous circuit around the 7,591-foot Old Course. A steady crowd of several hundred supporters spent the afternoon outside the gated patio next to the 16th tee where Trump recorded the second half of the game. Many of them wore shirts with well-known slogans: Let’s Go Brandon; Miss me already?; Excuse me, I voted for Trump.

Their patience was rewarded when he finally emerged from the fishbowl and began to roar frantically for a while improvised performance of God Bless America and was joined by Taylor Greene, the conservative arsonist who… cool angulated for a seat on Trump’s 2024 ticket. The atmosphere was much calmer a few hundred yards behind the 514-foot-long, par-five first tee, where a plaque and bouquet of white flowers marked the plot of freshly plowed land where Ivana Trump, the former president’s first wife, this year was buried. week.

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Trump’s unauthorized use of the presidential seal at his Bedminster club has drawn a stern tut-tut from ethical watchdogs, but many of the other signposts of his White House tenure on the property fall to the far right of federal law. Anyone who left their Maga hat at home could pick one up at the pro shop: unsigned for $35, signed for $500. The same goes for copies of his pictorial memoir, Our Journey Together, which cost $75.

Critics have accused the Saudi government of using its reported $2 billion investment in LIV Golf to “sport” the kingdom’s abhorrent human rights record, alleged links to the September 11 attacks, severe crackdown on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But while the Washington chat class has spent all week pondering whether Trump’s turn toward a regime he once accused of having played a role in 9/11 would cost him politically, Saturday’s scenes seemed to put the question to rest — while golf stays firmly in the back seat.

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