LIV Golf rebel Ian Poulter was booed on the first tee as the 150th Open Championship got under way on the Old Course at St Andrews yesterday, with Rory McIlroy the bookmakers’ favourite for the claret jug.
Poulter, the 46-year-old Englishman who has had three top-10 finishes at the Open, is one of 24 players in this week’s line-up who agreed to join the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV series.
Poulter later insisted he did not hear any jeers from the crowd. “I actually thought I had a great reception on the first tee, to be honest. All I heard was clapping,” said Poulter. “I shot three-under. I was quite happy. I was nice and relaxed.”
— Matt Bellner (@MattBellner) July 14, 2022
Former Open champion Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia are also among the LIV series members who are at St Andrews.
Open organisers the R&A opted not to ban the rebels, in contrast to moves made by the PGA and DP World Tours.
— Andrew McCormack (@_AMcCormack7) July 14, 2022
However, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers issued strong criticism of the Saudi-backed series, which offers prize money of $25million for each 54-hole event, compared to a $14m prize pot for this week’s Open.
The LIV model, he said on Wednesday, “is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money”.
“It undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special,” he added.
😃 Boos on the first tee for Ian Poulter, but it's all smiles come the ninth
— Sporting Life 🎯🔴🎾⛳️🥊🏏🏉 🏈 (@SportingLifeFC) July 14, 2022
Golfers at St Andrews this week are competing to succeed Collin Morikawa, the Californian who won the claret jug last year at Royal St George’s.
McIlroy, who went out with Morikawa and Xander Schauffele, the Olympic champion, is aiming to win the claret jug for the second time.
The Northern Irishman won the 2014 Open at Hoylake, but missed the chance to defend his title a year later in the last Open at St Andrews after injuring an ankle playing football.
England’s former US Open champion Justin Rose withdrew just before his scheduled tee-time due to a back injury.
His place was taken by Rikuya Hoshino of Japan, while South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen pulled out with a neck injury to be replaced by Aaron Rai of England.
The course is hosting the championship for the 30th time, the first since Zach Johnson won there in 2015 after foul weather delayed the finish until the Monday.
The Open is expecting record attendances for the week of 290 000, meaning galleries will be packed for the first championship since the end of Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions.