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LIV Golf players, led by Dustin Johnson, finding success at The Open amid backlash for breaking away

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R&A chief exec: LIV Golf is 'harming the perception of the sport' (2:19)

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers criticizes the LIV Golf model and believes the league is "harming the perception of the sport." (2:19)

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- The criticism leveled at the LIV Golf players by their peers and the sport's stakeholders has galvanized them at the 150th Open, according to Talor Gooch.

Gooch carded a 3-under 69 on Friday to sit 7 under after the first two rounds at St. Andrews. With Dustin Johnson in fifth place at 9 under and Sergio Garcia shooting a 6-under 66 in the second round, players from the breakaway LIV series are firmly in the mix for the Claret Jug entering the weekend.

In all, 11 of the 24 LIV golfers who played this year's Open made the cut and will play the weekend at the home of golf. Five were sitting in the top 20 after the second round Friday. Johnson and Gooch were in the top 10.

Their play comes on the back of criticism leveled in LIV Golf's direction from the R&A and other golfers. Rory McIlroy said it would be "better for the game" if a LIV player did not win this year's Open, while Tiger Woods said those who had joined LIV had "turned their back" on the sport.

Gooch has heard some of the criticism, and when asked whether this had motivated the LIV golfers to perform at St. Andrews, he answered: "Yeah, for sure. Everybody, it feels like, is against us, and that's OK. Like you said, it's kind of banded us together, I think."

LIV golfers like Lee Westwood had promising first rounds, while Sadom Kaewkanjana, Abraham Ancer, Ian Poulter and Bryson DeChambeau are also in the mix chasing leader Cameron Smith at 13 under.

"I think there's some strong players [in LIV], no doubt. The credentials of everyone speaks for themselves," Gooch said. "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.

"I think one thing that cannot be questioned is the quality of players that are there."

But Johnson said the criticism wasn't a motivating factor for him.

"Not me because, honestly, I don't read anything," Johnson said. "So I wouldn't know what you were saying or if there was anything negative being said. I don't pay attention to it."

While those who have joined LIV have not taken a backward step this week in their conviction that it was the right call to join the breakaway group, Gooch did backtrack on previous comments concerning the new series.

After playing in the LIV event at Pumpkin Ridge outside Portland, Oregon, Gooch was asked about the atmosphere and said, "I haven't played a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup, but can't imagine there's a whole hell of a lot of difference."

Asked about those comments after his round Friday, Gooch said some players had questioned his view.

"Yeah, a bunch of players came up, and they're like, 'Really? Really?' I was like, 'Hold on a second, guys. Give me a little break. I just won,'" Gooch said. "I was in the moment. I might have gotten a little aggressive with the comments.

"We were pumped. I watch F1. I was so pumped to be able to spray champagne like they do in F1. I was in the moment. Maybe a little aggressive of a comment. Rightfully so, I've taken a little bit of heat for it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.