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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Less political intrigue, more golf in 2023, please

Cam Smith or another LIV player winning another major seems to be the best way the 'rebel' tour can make any impact in 2023.
Cam Smith or another LIV player winning another major seems to be the best way the 'rebel' tour can make any impact in 2023.

It’s a fair cop. I’ve lost my mojo on the old predicting game.

It wasn’t for nothing that I usually prefaced this as the “annual hopeless stab-in-the-dark column”, but there have been years when everything fell into place. One year, 2014, I got almost everything exactly right.

For the last few years, though, I’ve been well off the mark. Rory McIlroy consistently failing to win a major since 2014 hasn’t helped (and I’ll add another notch below), But we’ve also had stuff beyond the realm of predictability.

First, a global pandemic that effectively shut the world down for a year and lingered into the next. It’s not fully gone yet.

Now I know various epidemiologists had predicted such a thing for some time. But golf writers, no.

The second main unpredictable element was the biggest schism in golf since Old Tom Morris broke ranks with Allan Robertson on the competing virtues of feathers and gutta percha.

The civil war between ‘established’ golf and LIV was the overriding narrative in 2022. The battle between the well-remunerated players and those who wished to be outlandishly remunerated came to dominate almost every element of the sport.

This will linger on into 2023. But I’m firmly of the belief that we’ll see a balance back towards the game rather than pseudo-political sparring in this New Year.

To be honest, we could all do with a fairly circumspect and mundane old golfing year where the actual playing of the game was the primary focus.

The game re-balances

LIV has been quiet in the last couple of months of the year. Too quiet, maybe? Or perhaps they’ve run out of steam?

There’s no more big names signing up to the Saudi-backed circuit. They haven’t issued a completed schedule for 2023 yet.

There’s no major TV deal on the horizon. The man charged with securing that and other revenue-raising opportunities, President and chief operating officer Atul Khosla, abruptly quit last month.

As we noted a couple of weeks ago, LIV needs another blockbuster of some sort to maintain momentum.

It could happen. No-one this time last year thought Brooks Koepka would ever sign up.

But it primarily needs less attention on what’s being said at pre-tournament press conferences and some on the actual tournaments themselves.

The PGA Tour, meanwhile, carries relentlessly on. You can expect big crowds at Riviera and Phoenix in the first few weeks. It’ll be a picture of health that drowns out LIV’s bluster.

Getting bogged down

It’s hard to see any speedy progress for LIV in their two most pressing off-course contests, the courts and world rankings.

The presiding judge in their civil case against the PGA Tour has already described a 2024 court date as “ambitious”. There will be various juicy disclosures revealed at pre-hearings throughout the year, but none are likely to be gamebreakers.

LIV’s hopes of getting Congress to declare illegal collusion by the established tours and the majors against them appear slim. Greg Norman was not well-received when he visited Washington. And pinning their colours so clearly to Donald Trump’s mast is hardly likely to win friends across the aisles.

As for the rankings, we got an inkling of what is happening when the OWGR approved the status of the obscure Gira de Golf Professional Mexicana the other week.

GdGPM is a 54-hole event tour, like LIV. But it has a weekly 36-hole cut and a Q school, which LIV does not.

It took 16 months to for GdGPM to be approved OWGR status. And the rankings were NOT backdated.

At that pace, LIV can maybe expect to be approved early in 2024. By that time, most of its members will have slumped out of the world top 100, if they haven’t already.

The major championships

The four majors, despite Saudi PIF chief Yasir Al-Rumayyan’s laughable boast that LIV would start their own, remain the central element of the game.

The Masters released their initial invitation list, which included an audible tut-tutting in a statement from chairman Fred Ridley towards LIV.

But it clearly shows the majors are simply going to largely ignore that any of this has happened.

LIV players who are exempt get to play, and that’s absolutely as it should be. Those not qualified are going to find it very difficult to get in as their rankings slump.

The majors seem to be the best place for LIV to make an impact. You could certainly see Cam Smith or Dustin Johnson, for two, winning at Augusta this year.

But there are many more contenders left in the ‘established’ game. I’d certainly have a bob on Rory McIlroy to win The Open at Hoylake again. I think at least one of the trio of Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas will win a major this year.

It’s about time for a number of players to break through – Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau and especially Will Zalatoris. The likeable American has surely come too close too often recently to miss out for much longer.

Real team golf returns

I have a feeling that by the time we get to Rome, and the Ryder Cup is in full swing, we won’t really give a hoot about any of those names who would have been there but took a different road.

And I’m really optimistic about Europe’s prospects. The US have been much more materially affected by departures. The European team was always going to change after Whistling Straits.

A close one, but I have Europe sneaking it by a point or two.

I think the US Solheim Cup team is top-heavy and marginalised when one of those top players doesn’t make a difference, like Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson at Inverness.

The US has a better captain this time in Stacey Lewis, but she’s up against a formidable figure in Suzann Petersen. Europe to win again, by a reasonably comfortable margin.