Henrik Stenson leads the LIV event but the Donald Trump circus steals the show | LIV Golf Series

It didn’t take long for the thinly veiled political nuances surrounding the LIV golf tournament at Donald Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club to burst into the fore on Saturday afternoon.

The few hundred spectators filling the stand behind the first tee exploded in the frenzied chants of “Four more years!” which echoed on the field as the former US president emerged in a white polo shirt and red Make America Great Again cap to watch the leading group of Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed and Phachara Khongwatmai begin their second round after the horn sent the shotgun to start at a quarter past one.

A few feet away, Greg Norman, the CEO and face of the controversial Saudi-funded tour, lifted the roof with a sheepish smile, embracing the rowdy atmosphere even though it was deftly avoided by the official broadcast , which was streamed on YouTube to approximately 70,000 viewers. in the absence of a TV agreement. And that was before a surprise appearance by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Republican congresswoman and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist from Georgia.

If day one was a Diet Maga rally, it was Maga Classic. The crowd for Saturday’s second round of the uncut 54-hole tournament was slightly larger and certainly noisier than Friday’s opening session, when no more than 2,000 spectators descended on the 500-acre Trump National course. in this farming town in central New Jersey. 45 miles west of New York. The previously deserted stands and grassy knolls along the fairways were dotted with fans as the central act of the $25million tournament unfolded under pristine blue skies and comfortable 88F (31C) temperatures.

Stenson, the overnight co-leader of his dismissal as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain last week, shot a two-under par 69 to widen his downfield 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 was once again in the spotlight, even as the star-studded field of PGA Tour defectors made the simultaneous circuit around the 7,591-yard Old Course. A steady mass of several hundred supporters spent the afternoon outside the gated patio next to the 16th tee where Trump played the second half of the day’s game. Many of them wore shirts bearing familiar slogans: Let’s Go Brandon; Do I still miss you? ; Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump.

Fans watch play from a distance on the 10th green in Bedminster.
Fans watch play from a distance on the 10th green in Bedminster. Photo: Mike Stobe/LIV Golf/Getty Images

Their patience was rewarded when he finally emerged from the aquarium with delirious roars for a impromptu performance of God Bless America and was joined by Taylor Greene, the conservative brandon who coldly inclined for a spot on Trump’s 2024 ticket. The atmosphere was much calmer a few hundred yards behind the 514-yard, par-five first tee, where a plaque and a bouquet of white flowers marked the patch of freshly turned land where Ivana Trump, the former’s first wife president, was buried this week.

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

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

But as Washington’s talkative class spent the week wondering if Trump’s about-face on a regime he once accused of a role in 9/11 will cost him politically, Saturday’s scenes seemed to ask. the question – the Golf staying firmly in the back seat.

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