Henrik Stenson leads the LIV event but Donald Trump’s circus steals the spotlight

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It didn’t take long for the thinly veiled political undertones surrounding the LIV Golf tournament at Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf club to come to light on Saturday afternoon.

The several hundred spectators who fill the grandstand behind the first tee burst in joyful chants of “Four more years!” that echoed on the grounds as the former US President appeared in a white polo shirt and red Make America Great Again cap to watch the leading pack of Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed and Phachara Khongwatmai begin their second rounds after the horn will eject the shotgun will start at a quarter past one.

Related: LIV Golf’s latest stop brings together Trump, Saudi Arabia and plenty of critics

Several feet away, Greg Norman, the CEO and face of the controversial Saudi-funded getaway tour, raised the roof with a coy smile, embracing the noisy atmosphere even as the official broadcast cleverly avoided it, which was broadcast on YouTube to around 70,000 viewers. in the absence of a television agreement. And that was before the surprise appearance of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Republican congresswoman and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist from Georgia.

If the first day was a Diet Maga rally, this was the Maga Classic. The crowds for Saturday’s second round of the 54-hole uncut tournament were slightly larger and certainly louder than those for Friday’s opening session, when no more than 2,000 spectators made it to the 500-acre grounds of Trump National. in this central New Jersey farming town. 45 miles west of New York City. Previously deserted grandstands and grassy mounds along the fairways were dotted with fans as the centerpiece of the $25 million tournament unfolded under pristine blue skies and balmy 88F (31C) temperatures.

Stenson, the joint overnight leader fresh from his role as European Ryder Cup captain last week, shot a two-under 69 to extend his field lead to nine under, three shots better. than Dustin Johnson and four ahead of Patrick Reed. , Carlos Ortiz and Talor Gooch.

But it was the former US President who once again absorbed the spotlight, even as the star-studded field of PGA Tour dropouts made the simultaneous circuit around the 7,591-yard Old Course. A steady stream of several hundred supporters spent the afternoon parked outside the enclosed terrace off the 16th tee where Trump watched the second half of the day’s game. Many of them wore T-shirts emblazoned with family slogans: Let’s Go Brandon; Do you already miss me? Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump.

His patience was rewarded when he finally emerged from the fish tank to delirious roars by a impromptu performance of God Bless America and was joined by Taylor Greene, the conservative firebrand who has coolly at an angle for a spot on Trump’s 2024 ticket. The mood was much calmer a few hundred yards behind the first 514-yard par-five, where a plaque and a bouquet of white flowers marked the newly turned plot of earth where Ivana Trump , the first wife of the former president, was buried this week.

Trump’s illicit use of the presidential seal at his Bedminster club has drawn a severe tut-tut from ethics watchdogs, but many of the other signs of his tenure in the White House are on the right side of federal law. Anyone who has left their Maga hat at home could pick one at the pro shop: unsigned for $35, autographed for $500. Ditto for copies of his pictorial memoir, Our Journey Together, which cost $75.

Critics have accused the Saudi government of using its $2 billion investment in LIV Golf to “wash the sport” of the kingdom’s abominable human rights record, alleged links to the 9/11 attacks, harsh crackdown on women’s rights and LGBTQ+ and the murder of the dissident journalist in 2018. Jamal Khashoggi.

But while Washington’s chattering class has spent the week pondering whether Trump’s sea change to a regime he once accused of involvement in 9/11 will cost him politically, Saturday’s scenes seemed to sideline the issue, and golf held firm. in the back seat.

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