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Golf’s renegade circus came to an underwhelming end on Saturday at Centurion as Charl Schwartzel hoisted aloft a gaudy trophy that carried no great significance. The South African had taken a three-shot lead into the final day of the inaugural LIV Golf event and the gimmicks of a team format and a shotgun start failed to spark any added twists or turns through the trees in Hemel Hempstead as he coasted to victory by one shot.
It was a day that lacked drama and offered few highlights that will live long in sporting memory, with nobody able to mount a challenge even as Schwartzel faltered on the back nine. That will not stop it from being deemed a resounding success by LIV Golf’s Saudi backers, though. The eye-watering prize money on offer was a greater subject of fascination than any sporting merit and its pull on the golfing world only grows stronger as Patrick Reed and Pat Perez were announced as the latest established PGA Tour names to jump ship.
Schwartzel collected a winner’s cheque worth an astonishing £3.2m for his first professional victory in over six years, but the wealth seeped down the leaderboard here like an oil slick. Hennie du Plessis, who at least applied a degree of pressure on his compatriot Schwartzel, earned over £2m for finishing second. Peter Uihlein’s birdie putt on the 18th that pushed him into a share of third was worth £180,000 alone. Andy Ogletree might have finished in dead last on 24 over par but the American still left with a guaranteed £100,000.
They are the vast, life-changing sums with which the PGA Tour cannot compete and make no mistake, it is only a matter of time before the group of ageing rebels lured here are transformed into a highly competitive field. Golf has little moral virtue to claim and loyalty and legacy will continue to fall victim to vulgarity and greed.
“I had to stay calm, I made a bad mistake on 12 but I’m proud of how I hung in and it’s a great feeling,” Schwartzel said. “The guys put on an amazing show, what they’ve done (at LIV Golf) is beyond our expectations. The way they treat everybody and the amount of money they put up as prizes.”
If we know the players can be easily bought by LIV Golf’s seemingly bottomless resources, there are still aspects to the breakaway that require more than a little fine-tuning. The team format added nothing to the spectacle other than a further lining to the players’ bank accounts and few of the fans in attendance seemed to buy into the concept. The so-called ‘Stinger GC’ team, comprised of South Africans Schwartzel, Du Plessis, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, won by a landslide 14 shots and collected another £600,000 each for a feat that was never more than a side note.
Greg Norman had blended into the background since his gaffe at last month’s media launch when he claimed “we all make mistakes” in reference to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but the Australian was all smug and smile as he returned to the spotlight for a prize-giving ceremony that failed to impart any meaning to Schwartzel’s victory other than the pound signs that came before it. “We’re going to supercharge the game of golf and go round the world showing golf is a force for good,” he said with typical unawareness.
But perhaps that is exactly what makes LIV Golf such a foreboding proposition. There is little pretence or disguise to its purpose, it is not a form of subtle sportswashing, it is up front and blatant, seizing on a game that’s more than a willing stooge. Saturday only proved that it will be able to do so with considerable success going forwards.