ST ANDREWS SCOTLAND (REUTERS) - The Royal & Ancient (R&A) was able to keep Greg Norman, chief executive officer of LIV Golf, away from The Open's 150th edition celebrations and convince the rebel series' most prominent player Phil Mickelson not to attend the Champions dinner.
But there was no way of keeping LIV players off the leaderboard as Dustin Johnson stormed into the second round clubhouse lead on Friday with LIV stable mate Talor Gooch just two back.
One of the LIV Series's biggest names, lured away from the PGA Tour by a reported US$150 million (S$210.6 million) guaranteed contract, Johnson carded a five-under 67 to sit one clear of world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler.
Also moving into contention was former Masters champion Sergio Garcia with a 66 while former-world No. 1 Lee Westwood will be out in the afternoon, looking to build on his opening round 68.
While Johnson dismissed any suggestion that the criticism LIV golfers have faced for signing on with the controversial Saudi-backed venture was providing added motivation, Gooch viewed the results as a sort of vindication for a circuit that has been labelled as uncompetitive by Tiger Woods and others.
"The credentials of everyone speaks for themselves," said Gooch.
"It's obviously cool for me to see other guys that are out there playing well. We've caught a lot of flak for what we've done here recently."
The image of a golfer from the breakaway circuit hoisting the treasured trophy in the Sunday twilight at the Home of Golf would be a powerful one and a marketing coup for the LIV Series which is in the midst of a bitter battle with the established US and European based PGA and DP Tours.
That dispute found its way to St Andrews with the R&A politely telling twice Open champion Norman it would not be extending an invite to the 150th anniversary events, believing his presence would be a distraction.
Six-time Major winner Mickelson, LIV's best known recruit, said he was also contacted by the R&A, which suggested it would not be a great idea to attend the Champions dinner and Celebration of Champions.
"I don't really know what you're talking about," said Johnson.
"I wouldn't know what you were saying or if there was anything negative being said.
"I don't pay attention to it."