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Speculation centers on Cameron Smith, three former Masters champions jumping to LIV Golf; What about Rickie Fowler?


Memorial as much about Cantlay winning as Rahm not playing

The golf world is buzzing with speculation after Open champion Cameron Smith's non-denial when asked if he was joining the LIV Golf Series, coupled with Greg Norman promising enough new recruits this week that LIV has "closed shop" on the 2023 roster.

Smith, whose historic victory Sunday at St. Andrews was followed by a testy exchange on his future plans, appears set by all reports to be the headliner this week when the startup league announces the latest defectors from the PGA Tour.

Smith was annoyed by a question about rumors he was jumping to the Saudi-financed league after winning his first major championship. He shot 64 Sunday to edge Jupiter's Cameron Young by one stroke.

“I just won the British Open, and you're asking about that," he bristled. "I think that's pretty not that good. I don't know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I'm here to win golf tournaments.”

The last time a major champion acted indignant when asked about speculation surrounding LIV was at the U.S. Open when Brooks Koepka accused journalists of "throwing a black cloud on the U.S. Open" as he was preparing to leave the PGA Tour.

Three days following another disappointing showing in a major, Koepka bailed and joined LIV. This came a few months after the Palm Beach County native and Jupiter resident labeled those who joined LIV as sellouts and said he would not chase the money.

Smith's game, unlike Koepka's and most of the Tour players who have defected, is on the rise. He jumped to No. 2 in this week's world rankings. Although he certainly would be the hottest golfer to join LIV this week, he is not expected to be alone.

LIV could add up to six names, according to multiple reports, including five ranked in the top 100 in the world.

Besides Smith, those strongly linked to LIV include No. 14 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 39 Adam Scott, No. 57 Marc Leishman, No. 84 Bubba Watson and No. 171 Henrik Stenson.

Matsuyama (2021), Watson (2014, 2012) and Scott (2013) are former Masters champions. Leishman was Smith's Australian Olympic teammate and Stenson is the current European Ryder Cup captain. He will be stripped of that title if he joins LIV.

So much about the Memorial felt as though golf was back to normal.

Thousands of fans surrounded the 18th hole, with tournament founder Jack Nicklaus sitting behind the green as he waited to greet the winner. Patrick Cantlay had a firm grip on the crystal trophy, just like he did two years ago the last time spectators roamed Muirfield Village.

It even rained, though not for very long.

But so much about Cantlay's playoff victory Sunday over Collin Morikawa made this Memorial unlike any of the previous 45 editions.

This was as much about who won as who didn't even play.

Cantlay, like everyone else at Muirfield Village, felt horrible than Jon Rahm went from tying tournament records — a 54-hole score of 18-under par and a six-shot lead — to being notified of a positive COVID-19 test that knocked him out of the final round.

What would have happened?

“Such a weird situation and so unfortunate because — me included — everyone knows it would have been a totally different day had that not happened,” Cantlay said. “But there's nothing I could do about it.”

Cantlay walked off the 18th green Saturday evening facing a six-shot deficit and trying to figure out how low he would have to go in the final round to even have a chance. Morikawa had finished in the group ahead. He was in the clubhouse when his girlfriend sent a text to tell him what happened to Rahm.

“I went downstairs to look at the TV and you see what happened to Jon and it's awful,” Morikawa said. “He deserved to go out and play really well, and he was 18 under. The rules are rules and you have to follow guidelines.”

Padraig Harrington suffered a fate similar to Rahm. He had a five-shot lead in the Benson & Hedges International Open on the European Tour in 2000 when the club asked for scorecards of the winner to post in the clubhouse. That's when it was discovered Harrington never signed his card in the first round. The penalty was disqualification.

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