Along the front face of the grandstands that loom over St. Andrews' first tee and 18th green hangs a banner that reads "Everything has led to this." It's a stirring line, and it's also true: golf began in the Scottish hills centuries ago, spread across the entire globe, and this week, returns to its ancestral homeland.
St. Andrews represents golf's history and tradition, a crucial element of the game at a time when much of the sport is fracturing away from that legacy. Since the last Open Championship, LIV Golf, the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway tour, has grown from gossipy speculation to a serious operation to an existential threat.
Speaking Tuesday at St. Andrews — and perhaps a touch influenced by the glory and majesty of a place he called his favorite course in the world — Tiger Woods held forth at length on LIV Golf and what he sees as its shortcomings. He began by indicating that he believes LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman "has done some things that I don't think is in the best interest of our game," and later focused his attention on the players who have opted for the guaranteed money and easier tournament structure of LIV.
"I think that what they've done is they've turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position," Woods said. "Some players have never got a chance to even experience it. They've gone right from the amateur ranks right into that organization and never really got a chance to play out here and what it feels like to play a Tour schedule or to play in some big events."
Woods indicated that LIV players are risking missing out on some of the greatest aspects of the sport. "Some of these players may not ever get a chance to play in major championships," he said. "That is a possibility. We don't know that for sure yet. It's up to all the major championship bodies to make that determination. But that is a possibility, that some players will never, ever get a chance to play in a major championship, never get a chance to experience this right here, walk down the fairways at Augusta National."
LIV Golf is funded by Saudi Arabia's sovereign Public Investment Fund, which has pledged $2 billion to the breakaway tour over the next few years. Critics have accused LIV and its players of "sportswashing," using sports and money to paper over criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights violations.
LIV tournaments are 54-hole, no-cut events, with every player who enters guaranteed a paycheck at the end of the event. Woods had little patience for that format.
"I can understand 54 holes is almost like a mandate when you get to the Senior Tour. The guys are little bit older and a little more banged up," Woods said. "But when you're at this young age and some of these kids — they really are kids who have gone from amateur golf into that organization — 72-hole tests are part of it. We used to have 36-hole playoffs for major championships."
Woods also noted that LIV removes one of golf's incentives: the drive to play better in order to get paid more.
"What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice?" he said. "What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You're just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They're playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different."
The counterpoint is that it's easy to disregard the allure of money when you're Tiger Woods and worth somewhere north of a billion dollars. All that Woods needs to play for now is history and legacy, and realistically, not even that. He is, after all, Tiger Woods.
He casts a monumental shadow over the game, now and for decades to come. Without Woods' blessing, LIV will lack some significant measure of credibility in the sport. Whether that's a reason to avoid LIV is a question each player must answer for himself. But it's entirely possible that choosing LIV, while profitable, won't lead a player anywhere near majors again.
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.