Davis Love III claims golfers could go on 'major strike' to force out Saudi rebels - AP

Davis Love III claims golfers could go on ‘major strike’ to force out Saudi rebels – AP

The PGA Tour is bracing itself for an imminent legal challenge from LIV rebels trying to win the right to appear in next month’s £60 million FedEx Cup playoffs.

The lawyers’ intervention would be a further escalation in a controversy that one former US Ryder Cup captain has claimed could even see Tour players threatening to boycott majors en masse to force out the Saudi-paid players.

That staggering claim was made by Davis Love III, a hugely-respected figure in the locker room who has skippered his country on two occasions in the biennial dust-up, most recently the US’s 2016 victory, and who is leading Team USA again in September’s President Cup.

Love has heard the whispers of the Tour being dragged to court next week and believes this would exacerbate an ever-growing divide between the two groups of pros, with the players who have resisted the LIV Golf Series temptations fearing the defectors might still be able to tee it up alongside them despite receiving 10s, and in some cases of 100s of millions to join the rival league.

Love has a solution for the band of loyalists if they feel powerless. “Here’s the biggest lever and it’s not the nice lever,” he told Sports Illustrated. “If a group of veterans and a group of top current players align with 150 guys on the Tour, and we say, ‘Guess what? We’re not playing’, that solves it, right? ‘If LIV guys play in the US Open, we’re not playing. If they sue in court, and they win, well, we’re not playing’. You know, there won’t be a US Open. It’s just like a baseball strike.”

It would be no surprise to see LIV unleash the lawyers if, as expected, the Tour extends its bans into the three-week end-of-season series that, as well as rewarding the winner with a cheque for £15m, decides who retains their full playing privileges.

As it stands, with two events left in the regular campaign – the Rocket Mortgage Classic that concludes on Sunday and next week’s Wyndham Championship – there are 10 on the LIV roster who would qualify for the first event in Memphis in a fortnight, with Brooks Koepka the biggest name (Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia are among those who have already resigned their Tour membership).

President Donald Trump looks on as Dustin Johnson of 4 Aces GC plays his shot - GETTY IMAGES

President Donald Trump looks on as Dustin Johnson of 4 Aces GC plays his shot – GETTY IMAGES

Earlier this month, Ian Poulter had his DP World Tour ban overturned for the Scottish Open in an 11th-hour ruling in which a judge declared that Wentworth HQ had not followed due procedure and should have waited until the overriding appeals into the suspensions and £100,000 fines were settled.

The PGA Tour went even further than their European counterparts, issuing indefinite suspensions and, even though they are under investigation by the Department of Justice on anti-competition laws, Sawgrass is almost duty-bound to follow this through into the playoffs.

And this is where emotions could rise yet further. Imagine if a LIV convert such as Talor Gooch – handily placed at 20th in the FedEx standings – earns permission to compete and walks off with the record payday.

No doubt Love’s “majors strike” suggestion is apocalyptic but there is no question that passions are bubbling. Luke Donald, the Englishman who Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed on Thursday will be named Europe captain early next week, took a swipe at Henrik Stenson for signing a contract that stipulated he would not switch to LIV, before doing exactly that last week in a £40m deal. “I will not do a Henrik,” Donald promised.

Stenson made his series debut here at Trump National on Friday and, considering the circumstances, the world No 173 produced a remarkable display in shooting a seven-under 64 to share the first-round lead with Patrick Reed in the 54-holer.

Another £3m in the Swede’s coffers might help dull all that “huge disappointment” he feels after being removed from the role. “It’s been a difficult 10 days, not much fun, but I was able to focus and I’ll take credit for that,” the 46-year-old said. “It’s the best I’ve played all year.”

Donald Trump was in attendance and although Phil Mickelson was heckled – the left-hander was forced to back off his opening tee-shot when a member of the gallery shouted “do it for the Saudi royal family!” – the planned protests by 9/11 groups demonstrating against the Saudi-funded tournament being staged at a course owned by a former US President just 50 miles from Ground Zero never got closer than a rally three miles from this secluded and heavily-guarded part of New Jersey.

Trump would have been happy to see plenty of “MAGA” caps and T-shirts, but, in truth, the crowd was small compared to the first two £20m events in Hertfordshire and Oregon and there was little in the way of atmosphere.

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