Golf's Civil War Has Its First Major Battlefield

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Dustin Johnson went out early at St. Andrews and enjoyed a walk in the rain, posting a five-under to catapult himself atop the leaderboard. There's plenty of golf left to play and advantageous scoring conditions present the opportunity for multiple players to best this mark. But no matter how low someone else goes, Johnson will enter the weekend with a realistic chance to win his third major to leave only the PGA Championship left to complete the Slam. Looking into a crystal ball as cloudy as the North Sea means we don't know what will happen over the final two days. Yet it's not too early to identify a very real possibility that we'll bask in a storyline never before explored in the history of the great game.

Of the names to bolt for LIV, Johnson's is perhaps the boldest when one considers his capacity to compete for the most meaningful championships. His departure was no surprise and the level of his earnest zest for golf is an open question. Yet there's no debating his aptitude and competitiveness under the brightest lights. The exodus has generated strong opinions and created battle lines, as fans choose sides in this slow-rolling schism.

For the first time, though, these two sides can move their disagreements away from words and toward the avatars of their vision for the future. Johnson, along with Abraham Ancer, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia are in contention with scores of PGA loyalists. So too is Minister of Propaganda Talor Gooch. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, perhaps the two strongest and most impactful voices defending the status quo, lurk mere shots behind the lead. Scottie Scheffer, Young, and Sahith Theegala — making up the next generation of the Tour — also have aspirations.

Conditions are right for honest-to-goodness settle-it-on-the-field dramatics. LIV players going shot for shot with PGA pros down the stretch on Sunday promises tremendous theater. And a deeper, more emotional element than has ever been interjected. This is the silver lining of the dark clouds hanging over both the courses and the marketplace of ideas.

Things will get more intense. More fun. More tribal.

Leave it to The Open to find new tricks up its sleeve in this, its 150th showcase.