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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: The overblown spite on the practice range might be laughable, but get used to it

Rory McIlroy won for a third time in Dubai.
Rory McIlroy won for a third time in Dubai.

If you’re a little sensitive or even appalled at the lengths we seem to be going to in golf to create a little intrigue these days, I’ve bad news for you.

Get used to it.

Last year’s narrative in the sport was the setting of the battlelines in the game’s newly-established civil war. The intrigue then was which side prominent characters were going to take.

There were people who went 180 degrees in the space of a few days as oil-stained lucre was brandished in their eye-line in ever increasing quantities.

Those about-faces created an environment where you couldn’t quite believe what anyone said. If Brooks Koepka changed his mind in a couple of weeks, couldn’t everyone?

The trenches are established

Every tournament until the PGA Tour’s Championship in August was awash with rumour. Self-proclaimed ‘insiders’ who barely know the inside of their own bathroom thrived on social media with outlandish ‘predictions’.

That was always going to calm down. Those who have gone to LIV Golf and those who have stayed are pretty much entrenched, for now.

The best the rumour trolls can do for a new LIVer for 2023 so far are Mito Pereira, who procrastinaed for months, and Anthony Kim.

He was a brief flare on the golf scene, had some sort of meltdown and hasn’t been seen for years.

So what’s the ongoing narrative? We saw clearly at the Dubai Desert Classic last week: a good old dose of spite.

Petty nonsense like ‘Tee-Gate’ will be the norm

I have great sympathy with the view that “Tee-gate” was an unnecessary, almost ludcirous storm over a carelessly discarded tee-peg.

To recap, Rory McIlroy blanked Patrick Reed on the range at Dubai to which the former Masters champion responded by tossing a tee in Rory’s general direction.

Petty nonsense, but it’s definitely also a symptom of the general tension between the LIV players competing at Dubai and those who have remained in the ‘established game’.

And it’s what we’ll get all year, even if an arbitration decision falls in the tour’s favour and the LIV players find they are no longer able to play DP World Tour events.

The four majors, it seems, are not going to tamper with their previously declared qualification processes. The LIV members who have rights to play, will play. I think everyone agrees that’s only fair.

But it does mean that it will be four glaring points of conflict for the sport, at the most high-profile championships of the year.

And the LIV players concerned will be the ones like Reed or Phil Mickelson or Koepka, the proper lightning rods for conflict, rather than your Adrian Otaeguis or Richard Blands.

Like it or not, even if snotty veteran reporters like your correspondent turn up their nose to such a thing, the ranges at the majors will be full of media who do not. They will be looking for a tale (it’s their job, after all) and anything, like a tetchy comment or even a tee peg thrown in the wrong direction, is fair game.

Near thing in Dubai underlines LIV’s problem

Meanwhile the exciting finish at Dubai, in my view, further illustrates LIV’s continuing problem. Their actual events, despite recent Twitter boostering by Mickelson and even Patrick Reed’s wife, don’t remotely move the needle.

As McIlroy briefly wobbled on Monday’s delayed final round, he seemed surrounded by the LIV players. Reed, after yet another (well dodgy) rules incident re-established open season on his character, responded as usual by using it as competitive fuel.

Had Reed or one of the other LIV players who fell away beaten McIlroy – who started the day with a three-shot lead – it would have been their biggest boost since Open champion Cam Smith ‘defected’.

In the end, Rory was the one with the figurative two-finger salute after his 14-foot birdie putt won it on the 18th.

I’m not into the white knight scenario promoted by some, but McIlroy’s the highest profile and most vocal player for the ‘established game’. Winning in such circumstances is absolutely relevant for the wider picture.

So it was definitely a chance missed for LIV, not just because it was Rory. But also because nothing in their own artificially manufactured events, and nothing in the affliated events on the Asian Tour in the Middle East this next fortnight, would have anything like the impact of a win in Dubai.

A welcome return to form from Calum Hill

The Middle East swing for the DP World Tour ends in Ras Al Kahimah this week. Prizemoney is not even a quarter of what was available in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

But the DPWT can be satisfied with the two top order events they’ve presented. The restructured PGA Tour has to settle down before we know the fields these events can expect in the future.

But even without top US names the two tournaments made the necessary impact.

From a parochial point of view, the most encouraging thing for the fortnight has been the form of our ‘locals’.

Abu Dhabi winner Victor Perez has decamped to Edinburgh and swapped the St Andrews Links range for The Renaissance Club’s sumptuous facilities. But we forgive him.

Connor Syme’s still in Dundee. He had two strong weeks, underlining the view of many that he is close to that maiden victory.

But the most welcome result of all were Calum Hill’s Dubai performance. The Perthshire player’s lost year with a nagging nerve injury looks to be behind him.

The Perthshire player has a membership extension for 2023 on top of his remaining exmeption for a 2021 win. But his best ever showing in a Rolex Series event indicates that he’ll make good on that.

During his rise in 2021 Calum was most frustrated that he didn’t play his best in the top events.

The top 20 finish in Dubai suggests he’s putting that to rights. While his injury still has to be carefully managed, we have every reason to be optimistic for him going forward.