We're headed for a fascinating weekend at the British Open.
Just days after Tiger Woods criticized the competitive drive of players on the LIV tour, and R&A chairman Martin Slumbers dismissed LIV as an exhibition rather than a competition, a LIV player is at the top of the leaderboard.
Dustin Johnson bogeyed the first hole in Round 2, then played the remaining 17 in six under to seize the early clubhouse lead at -9, one stroke ahead of Round 1 leader Cameron Young and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler. With benign conditions expected the remainder of Friday, Johnson's lead isn't likely to sustain the entire day, but the fact that Johnson's in the mix at all has to be causing some consternation at the R&A clubhouse.
LIV has fired a shot across the bow of professional golf with a massive infusion of Saudi Arabia-backed funding, along with 54-hole no-cut tournaments with guaranteed paychecks. The question many in the golf world have asked is how LIV could consider itself an elite-level tour without the threat of a cut. Johnson and Talor Gooch, also near the top of the leaderboard, are in effect answering those criticisms by playing as well as they are even after several weeks on the LIV tour.
"Everybody, it feels like, is against us (on the LIV), and that's okay," said Gooch, who finished the day at -7. "It's kind of banded us together, I think."
Johnson sidestepped the question of whether the criticism of LIV was motivating him in any way. "Honestly, I don't read anything," he said. "So I wouldn't know what you were saying or if there was anything negative being said. I don't pay attention to it."
But ignoring criticism won't make it go away, and Johnson — along with Gooch, and Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter — will be hearing more questions as the weekend goes on, particularly if he ends up paired with noted LIV critic Rory McIlroy. But that doesn't mean he'll answer them; his focus, he said, is elsewhere.
"For me coming in here, obviously, it's a major. I want to come in here and play well and compete," Johnson said. "Probably be a few back by the end of the day, I would imagine. Still in a good spot going into the weekend."
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.