Daily Mail


- RIATH AL-SAMARRAI reports from Sawgrass

WHEN Rory McIlroy launches his bid to win the Players Championsh­ip today, it will be set against the backdrop of storms with which golf is increasing­ly familiar. While the LIV furore has long been in place, a fresh controvers­y involving Tiger Woods has also dropped out of the clouds into a courtroom. It has emerged a former long-term girlfriend of Woods, Erica Herman, is attempting a legal challenge against the terms of a non-disclosure agreement she signed in August 2017, around the time they began a relationsh­ip of almost six years. Among the points listed by her lawyers in her bid to nullify the NDA, legal documents filed on Monday in Florida, point to the Speak Out Act, which relates to disputes involving sexual assault or sexual harassment.

It is unclear if Woods, who is not playing at Sawgrass, has been accused of any offence. Sportsmail has contacted his agent for comment.

That scenario served as a jolting distractio­n from the tournament and the ongoing civil war within golf, which has caused the absence of 31 LIV golfers from what is typically the strongest field in the sport. The list of the missing includes defending champion Cameron Smith, a LIV defector and Florida resident who this week dangled the amusing possibilit­y that he might drop by to watch. With LIV rebels still able to play in the majors, it is at this flagship event of the PGA Tour where their absence will be most sharply observed. It is also where the chaos of their making has generated the most wealth for those left behind, with the Tour’s efforts to stop further defections leading to a swelled prize fund of £21million, with £3.8m going to the winner. Indeed, each of the top four will pocket more than £1m, which plays to McIlroy’s admission that LIV ‘has benefited everyone that plays elite profession­al golf’. Although that is accurate in a financial context, the dispute has done little for those who want to see the best play the best. At least this tournament has mitigated those losses with the groupings for the first two rounds, which put Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and McIlroy, the top three in the world rankings, together. The next two days will offer a fascinatin­g insight into where they stand relative to each other. Scheffler said: ‘We have had some really, really great finishes so far this year, having a lot of the best players going up against each other. As a player you look forward to beating the best in the world.’

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