Henrik Stenson is running the LIV event, but the Donald Trump circus is stealing the spotlight

Henrik Stenson is running the LIV event, but the Donald Trump circus is stealing the spotlight

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It wasn’t long before the thinly veiled political undertones surrounding Donald Trump’s LIV golf tournament at Bedminster Golf Club came to the fore on Saturday afternoon.

The several hundred spectators filled the stands behind the first tee broken out into boisterous chants of “Four more years!” that echoed around the grounds as the former US President emerged in a white polo shirt and red “Make America Great Again” cap to watch as Henrik Stenson’s leading group , Patrick Reed and Phachara Khongwatmai began their second round after the Horn sent off the shotgun at quarter past one.

Related: LIV Golf’s latest stop brings Trump, Saudi Arabia and a whole host of criticism together

A few yards away, Greg Norman, the CEO and face of the controversial Saudi Arabia-funded Breakaway tour, raised the roof with an embarrassed grin and embraced the rowdy atmosphere, despite speaking from the official broadcast, which streamed to around 70,000 viewers on YouTube was cleverly avoided in the absence of a TV deal. And that was before a surprise appearance by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Republican congresswoman and avowed Christian nationalist from Georgia.

If day one was a Diet Maga Rally, then this was Maga Classic. The crowd for the second round of the 54-hole no-cut tournament on Saturday was slightly larger, and certainly louder, than Friday’s opening session, when no more than 2,000 spectators flocked to Trump National’s 500-acre site in this farm town in the Central New Jersey came 45 miles west of New York City. The previously deserted grandstands and grassy mounds lining the fairways were packed with fans as the middle act of the $25 million tournament took place under clear blue skies and a comfortable 31°C (88°F).

Stenson, the joint overnight leader fresh from being recalled as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain last week, shot two under par 69 to extend his lead on the field 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 simultaneously circumnavigated the 7,591-yard Old Course. A constant crowd of several hundred supporters spent the afternoon outside of the enclosed patio next to the 16th tee, where Trump taped the second half of the day’s play. Many of them wore shirts with well-known slogans: Let’s Go Brandon; Do you already miss me?; Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump.

Her patience was rewarded when he finally emerged from the fishbowl, roaring insanely spontaneous performance from God Bless America and was joined by Taylor Greene, the conservative arsonist cool angled for a seat on Trump’s 2024 ticket. The atmosphere was far calmer a few hundred yards past the 514-yard, par-five first tee, where a plaque and a bouquet of white flowers marked the freshly dug lot where Ivana Trump, the former President’s first wife, was buried this week.

Trump’s unauthorized use of the president’s seal at his club in Bedminster has drawn a stern tut-tot from ethics watchdogs, but many of the other signposts of his White House tenure on the grounds fall on the right-hand side of federal law. Anyone who left their maga hat at home could do it get one in the pro shop: unsigned for $35, autographed for $500. Ditto for copies of his pictorial memoir, Our Journey Together, which go for $75.

Critics have accused the Saudi government of using its reported $2 billion investment in LIV Golf to exploit the kingdom’s vile human rights record, alleged links to the 11 Jamal Khashoggi attacks.

But while the Washington bullshit class has spent the week pondering whether Trump’s about-face to a regime he once played in the backseat of 11.

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