Lynch: A LIV win at the Masters would be a pain for the PGA Tour, but won’t save the Saudi circuit

AUGUSTA, Ga. — What happens in Augusta on the second Sunday in April has an enormous impact — all positive — on the careers and legacies of individuals. But if the usual knot of toadies is to be believed, the 87th Masters could have a similar effect on LIV Golf if one of its players is in position to risk a contract violation by covering his team logo with a green jacket come Sunday evening.

It’s a plausible scenario, even if reps were lacking and prep wanting. A handful of LIV players who competed last week at Orange County National wouldn’t be considered surprise winners this week at Augusta National. Greg Norman’s foot soldiers comprise more than a fifth of the field, so if you discount those destined to exit early for reasons of geriatrics or youthful inexperience then the odds are high that one will play himself into contention, perhaps all the way to Butler Cabin.

That would at least test Norman’s prediction that all LIV competitors will gather by the final green to congratulate their fellow traveler. What of Kevin Na, who said ‘nah’ after nine holes of the opening round? Is he planning to remain in Augusta through the forecasted poor weather just to slap someone’s back three days hence? Even Rickie Fowler has never waited behind a green that long to celebrate a victory that wasn’t his.

While a LIV victory would be no shock, the import of it would be analyzed with the kind of febrile enthusiasm seldom seen outside of Taylor Swift’s TikTok videos. Yet no matter how much Norman would crow — who are we to deny him a droplet of water in the very desert that parched him for decades? — a LIV winner would amount to less of a boost for Norman than it would be a pain in Jay Monahan’s posterior.

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LIV Golf’s trajectory will not be materially impacted if one of its guys is the last man standing in Georgia, no more than it was aided by Cam Smith bringing his Claret Jug to the party last summer. The fate of Norman’s folly will be determined by two things: a product so lousy that it can’t draw a scale audience, and the legal peril in which his ill-conceived and poorly-executed litigation strategy has placed his sole benefactor. And that reality is being drawn in sharp focus this week far away from Augusta.

Preliminary court filings in California’s Northern District promise another two gut punches for LIV Golf just hours after a U.K. sports arbitration panel issued a ruling that effectively prevents its players from cherry-picking DP World Tour events. Judge Beth Labson Freeman has rejected an attempt by the Public Investment Fund and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, to claim immunity from the discovery process as co-defendants in the PGA Tour’s countersuit against LIV, which the Saudi slush fund owns and finances. She also granted a motion by the Tour to have Al-Rumayyan be deposed in New York rather than Riyadh.

For Crown Prince MBS’s bag man, that prospect is the legal equivalent of the dental scene in Marathon Man, an excavation so excruciating that even his enemies might weep for him, though perhaps not his famously mercurial and brutal boss.

LIV Golf is being strangled by a noose of its own making (though one expertly applied by opposing counsel), finding that the U.S. legal system is not a one-way street in which its Saudi owners can breezily claim sovereign immunity when convenient, rejecting the jurisdiction of the very court whose protection it sought. The entire enterprise has gotten this far because it only needed to convince one benefactor to ignore the economically irrational business model and execrable product quality. But that in turn means the end could come swiftly if the same benefactor has reason to retreat, such as legal exposure not only for himself but for his entire investment portfolio in the U.S., thanks to the precedent set within Norman’s cockamamie suit.

A LIV player winning this Masters might have a few more folks searching to see where to find the CW network, but it won’t save a product that has demonstrated an inability to attract either an audience or corporate support, even with current and former major winners competing. But it would highlight a looming problem for the PGA Tour.

When LIV Golf eventually enters the death spiral, a conversation will gather pace over the fate of its players. The PGA Tour will face pressure to create a mechanism by which relevant stars can be rehabilitated, since a current or recent major winner being entirely excommunicated from any competitive ecosystem will not sit well with fans or even other players. The Masters champion is an asset that someone will want to claim.

What happens on Sunday at Augusta National won’t really impact the long-term future of LIV Golf because its legal losses in California and the U.K. have inflicted damage that a green wool jacket just can’t conceal.

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