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Polite indifference for Ian Poulter but a grilling for Justin Harding as LIV players return to Scottish Open after legal action

Ian Poulter shot 78 to be dead last after the first round of the Genesis Scottish Open.
Ian Poulter shot 78 to be dead last after the first round of the Genesis Scottish Open.

Two old hand golf fans – both with rucksacks, so you know – were as close as you could get to the 10th tee where Ian Poulter was beginning his first round of the Genesis Scottish Open.

That was, of course, still 80 yards away. The tee is well cordoned off from fans as it’s where Rory McIlroy had his clubs sampled by a rogue trespasser a year ago. The light smattering of applause for Poulter and his fellow LIV Golf suspension-busting colleague Branden Grace was from the handful of marshals.

‘Can’t be bothered’

“Look, it’s Poulter,” said one of the fans as the Ryder Cup hero strode purposefully by in his unmistakably hideous blue tartan trews. “Do you want to boo him?”

“Nah, can’t be bothered,” said the second.

The pair didn’t follow the group down the par five. When the Ryder Cup hero was hacking his way out of the thick rough there were more much media watching than fans – 10 reporters and photographers compared to just three spectators.

But there were 30 up at the green when, having gone long with his third, Poulter executed a delightful 50-foot chip for an unlikely birdie four. That brought shouts, cheers and claps.

That it was as good as it got for Poulter, who fronted the legal action that got four of the banned LIV Golf players into the field at The Renaissance. He didn’t have another birdie, and nine bogeys for a 78, which left him dead last out of 160 starters.

And he seemed to be greeted mostly with indifference. Scottish golf fans are rarely abusive or loud. Even when he passed the Edinburgh Gin Bar at the sixth green, later in the day after much opportunity to imbibe, there were simple polite smatterings of applause.

Poulter and Grace were leading out the day’s second wave. That meant they were waiting forlornly on just about every shot. They didn’t even have a scoreboard bearer out with them.

Grace didn’t seem to mind, a super shot to two feet at the sixth gaining warm applause and helping him to a two-under 68. Spain’s Adrian Otaegui, in the first group of the day, had a one-over 71.

Harding’s grilling after 65

But his playing partner Justin Harding had a bogey-free 65 from the front of the field. The 36-year-old’s post-round media duties, however, were far more onerous than anything he encountered on the course.

Clearly unwilling to divulge the timeline behind the legal challenge, how he got involved and who instigated it, he did reveal that although a competitor at both LIV events, he has signed no contract with the rebel tour.

“I’ve just participated in a couple of events. I haven’t signed any contracts or deals, so I feel like I am in a slightly different position,” he said. “I’ve no idea if I am in (the third LIV event) at Bedminster or not. If I am, I’ll have something to think about.

“Look, at the end of the day it was an event. It was an invitational, it was worth a bucketload of money.

“And it felt like I could play in it. I’m not going to go into the logistics of the regulations and what’s right and what’s wrong.

“Ultimately I’m a golfer. I felt I was entitled to play in the event and I chose to do so.”

Harding won in Kenya this year and Qatar in 2019. He’s played 86 events in the last three and a half seasons.

“I felt like I wanted to give it a shot and play and support the European Tour,” he said.

“Ultimately I have a winners category so it felt like I was entitled to play. I was a little bit upset when I was told I couldn’t.

“So to hear on Monday evening was a bonus.”

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