Not even Greg Norman’s hysterical hubris can hide LIV’s collapse into periphery

Greg Norman walks with patrons on the second hole during the second round of the Masters
Greg Norman (left) has enjoyed portraying himself as a man of the people at the Masters - Getty Images/Warren Little

Greg Norman, a man of such modesty that he once named his £65 million yacht “Aussie Rules”, is never knowingly understated. And so despite his presence at Augusta being about as welcome as lawn fungus, and despite being forced to scrabble for a ticket on the secondary market, the LIV ringmaster still likened his fleeting stop here to a state visit.

Claiming to have been saluted by “hundreds, if not thousands of people”, the Australian reflected on Sunday: “It was humbling, moving and I was taken back by words of encouragement: ‘Thank you for what you have done for golf’, ‘Don’t stop’, ‘Love LIV’, and the one that got to me personally and emotionally, ‘Welcome back’. My right hand is sore from shaking hands with each and every one of you, as well as the hugs given to so many.”

It is this hysterical hubris that has become Norman’s stock in trade. But his bluster has gone into overdrive at this Masters, with his pride wounded by the green jackets’ refusal to grant him an invitation. He discounts all the evidence that he has become this tournament’s persona non grata, instead projecting himself as the game’s messiah.

Except his role in golf has become, to adapt the old Monty Python line, that of the very naughty boy. Augusta do not want him near the place, desperately wishing that he would take his disruptive exhibitionism elsewhere.

Phil Mickelson watches his bunker shot on the seventh hole
Phil Mickelson looks on as his Masters hopes fade - AP/Charlie Riedel

Is there anything to support his boast that the galleries are genuflecting at his feet? Why would they? This is the figure who, with unlimited Saudi Arabian backing, has torn golf apart, tempting the winners of 10 of the past 20 Masters to join him on his flashy rebel tour. He is the reason why the world’s best are only facing off against each other at the majors. It hardly seems a natural cause for gratitude.

Norman’s hyperbole concealed a further inconvenient truth: the fact that so many of his LIV players are finding their form deteriorating. Take Dustin Johnson, who, at the Covid-affected November Masters 3½ years ago, won with a record score of 20 under par. This time he collapsed to 13 over, missing the cut by seven, his temperament for the grandest occasion apparently wrecked by a life spent in lavishly-rewarded semi-retirement.

Rahm wore a hollow expression that looked an awful lot like regret

Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, with 11 major titles between them, did at least squeeze through to the weekend, before fading into competitive irrelevance. Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel both made premature exits. By far the most galling experience, though, belonged to Jon Rahm, for whom a year must feel like an aeon. Rewind 12 months and the Spaniard was the toast of his peers for his exceptional composure in winning the Masters at 28. Since then, the opprobrium stirred by his £450 million defection to LIV has taken its toll, with Rahm rounding off a feeble championship defence at four over.

After signing his card, he wore a hollow expression that looked an awful lot like regret. “It’s hard to talk about when I’ve played this badly,” he said. “It’s been nice to have some receptions no matter what my score was, seeing the appreciation. But it’s difficult now to have to stay and put the jacket on somebody else when you’ve never really had a chance.”

Jon Rahm puts his hand on his head
Defending champion Jon Rahm suffered a torrid Masters this year - Shutterstock/Joe G Mabanglo

What is going on? Are the LIV rebels truly sabotaging themselves by retreating to a schedule of glorified hit-and-giggles, playing in shorts on resort courses whose condition would horrify Augusta’s greenkeepers? This theory holds true in the case of Johnson, a two-time major winner who acts as if he has given up on being a serious contender.

It applies, too, to Adrian Meronk, the Polish signing who early last year was a shoo-in for the European Ryder Cup side, but who slithered to the margins at his second Masters with rounds of 78 and 80. And to Sergio Garcia, who pitched up in garish canary-yellow trousers but who only lasted 36 holes.

But it does not explain the resilience of Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith and latest recruit Tyrrell Hatton, all of whom made their presence felt on the final-round leaderboard. For all its myriad deficiencies, LIV has still assembled a formidable line-up. Plus, the sheer scale of its extravagance continues to wreak havoc, even in a place of Augusta’s opulence.

When the Masters confirmed the prize money purse, with a first prize of £2.9 million, few could have accused them of being parsimonious. And yet even this extraordinary cheque paled against the £3.2 million that South Africa’s Dean Burmester collected for winning last week’s LIV event in Miami. The cash has distorted the traditional calculations to such an extent that the honour of Masters victory attracts no greater payout than next weekend’s PGA Tour event in South Carolina.

This is why Norman is so unpopular at Augusta, and why he is so determined to suggest the opposite. Far from rescuing golf, he has plunged it into a profound crisis, where many of the game’s leading men are squirrelled away on a tour whose TV ratings are pathetically low.

He came to the Masters hoping to witness a stunning surge by his stars, only to see them fade to the periphery. Full of bombast he might be, Norman, the consummate showman, can hardly be oblivious to the damage he has caused.

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