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The full Graeme McDowell interview: The amount of s**t that’s been written about, it’s something I have never had to deal with’

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Graeme McDowell on the seventh during day one of the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Graeme McDowell on the seventh during day one of the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Graeme McDowell on the seventh during day one of the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It started with a question about newspaper headlines in his native Northern Ireland slamming his backing of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series as pure sportswashing.

Then there were even emotional revelations about death threats.

Who’d have thought Tiger Woods opening with a 77 in the incredible charitable event that is the JP McManus Pro-Am could be utterly overshadowed by the bitter civil war between LIV Golf and the game’s major tours.

Graeme McDowell opened with a one-under 71 to trail leader Xander Schauffele by seven shots at Adare Manor but the golf is only a minor concern at the 2027 Ryder Cup venue as he laid his soul bare, admitting he sometimes finds it hard to look in the mirror now that his legacy is, at least temporarily, “tainted”.

While he pointed the finger at the DP World Tour’s hypocrisy in taking the Saudi millions in 2020 and 2021 and distanced himself from the 16 LIV Golf rebels taking legal action against the DP World Tour, saying he would only come back if he was welcomed with open arms, he appeared on the verge of tears at times.

He addressed the loss of the competitive “spark” that made him a world-beater and also his anger at the DP World Tour’s Guy Kinnings for allegedly leaking his doubts about signing up to LIV Golf when having a private discussion on reneging on a deal to host last week’s Horizon Irish Open due to a clash with the second LIV event in Portland.

Having failed to qualify for the US Open, he’s resigned to missing The Open next week too, insisting he won’t tee it up even if an injunction by the 16 rebels challenging a ban on their playing this week’s Scottish Open somehow prospers.

“I only want to be there if The Scottish Open would like me to be there,” he said. He was taken aback by the vitriolic reaction to his decision to defend Saudi Arabia’s attempts at normalising their regime through sport but doubled down on his views expressed before the first LIV event last month.

“The hardest thing for me the last three or four weeks is the negative fallout and being linked to comments, where all you’re trying to do is say the right things and do the right thing for a golf organisation that are giving us a phenomenal opportunity,” McDowell said.

“All the tenuous links to the things that these guys have allegedly done when we know that the links are, like I say, tenuous at best. It doesn’t mean everyone in Saudi Arabia is a bad person.” Calling out double-standards, he added: “Joe Biden, he’s going to jump on a plane and sit down with MBS (Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia) in two weeks’ time because he needs his oil. But golfers, we’re the worst people in the world.”

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For now, he’s resigned to a life in golfing exile – “I’ve made my peace with it” – and admits he understands why he wouldn’t be allowed back as a LIV player.

“For sure,” he said. “That’s the whole have-your-cake-and-eat-it situation. If I’m never allowed to play another golf tournament on The European Tour, will I be surprised? No. I will be disappointed but I won’t be surprised. It is difficult because this is such a competitive threat to the biggest tours in the world, the PGA Tour and the European Tour.

“They obviously don’t believe in their product well enough to be able to give the players the choice because they feel like if they do give the players the choice they are going to lose 48 of the best players in the world straight away.”

As for his legacy, he admits it’s been damaged but he hopes not irrevocably, insisting he’s not sorry he took the money.

“In the short term it’s tainted because the narrative is so negative. Eventually that narrative will have to change. How many top players are going to have to play in this thing and create a product to where you guys will start talking about golf?”

As for being called out by DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley, without being named, for reneging on his written promise to play the Horizon Irish Open, he accused Pelley’s deputy Kinnings of leaking their private conversation on the matter to the media, something the DP World Tour vehemently denies.

“I tried to be fair and I tried to be open with them and put all my cards on the table. Of course I was very disappointed that the second event fell against the Irish Open. I would have loved to have been there last week. The only thing I can say is I have to be all-in. I’m 43 and 380th in the world. My value to these guys is only so much. I have to try to commit the best I can to the LIV Tour, and that meant not obviously being able to play last week.”

He added: “Listen, I’d love to be back at the Irish Open next year and like I say I can only apologise to the Irish golf fans that I wasn’t there last week. And like I say, unfortunately I had pretty good reasons for it regards what I have to commit to with the LIV Tour. I have to be all-in with those events. I can’t just dip my toe in.”

Asked if he’d ‘sold his soul to the devil’, he said: “I’ve played golf all over the world for, you know, countries that if you dug deep enough, you might think, what am I doing playing golf here,” he said. As for his reasons for taking the money, he admitted that struggling to compete and battling injuries he “lost my spark a little bit.”

He doesn’t know where it will all end by as he looked around at the world’s top players and a field of amateurs that included PGA Tour boss Jay Monahan and his European counterpart Pelley, who wondered if JP McManus might be the only man capable of reaching a compromise.

“Maybe JP will sit them all down tonight and sort them out,” he said. “Listen, there might not be an event in the world again for the next four or five years that looks like this. So God bless him.”

THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF GRAEME McDOWELL’S INTERVIEW

Q. I was just thinking, I see front pages headlines in the Belfast Telegraph saying “I’m proud to help the Saudis”, how does that affect you and especially your family living there?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I don't read The Belfast Telegraph -- don't even f***ing tell me what was on the front -- is that a real paper?

Q. Kenny (his father) and the whole family. All the headlines.

GRAEME McDOWELL: What paper was that? Was that a real one? No one reads it anyway, it's okay.

Listen, f**k, like some guy from Amnesty International, sent me the quotes, asked me to respond. How am I supposed to respond to Amnesty International? That's called fighting a losing battle. Of course I'm not going to respond. It's ridiculous. It's just golf. I'm not trying to solve the world's issues. So yeah, not real happy with the Belfast Telegraph. For my family to read that s***. It's unfair. It's unfair.

Q. Can I just ask you about the situation with Scottish Open and that sort of thing and just the golf politics at the moment?

GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure, I'm very disappointed to not be playing Scotland this week. It was obviously my only way into The Open. As a past champion in The Scottish Open, I'd love to be there.

But I mean, it's expected, you know, with the current environment we have going on right now and until we get this all straightened out, I kind of didn't expect to be playing it. I know a few of the guys are trying to fight it from a legal point of view to be there. I don't want to be there under some sort of legal injunction premise. I only want to be there if The Scottish Open would like me to be there. Otherwise I'm happy to sit it out. I'm not happy to sit it out but I will respect their wishes.

I hope in the future, I think we all feel strongly about The European Tour. We feel proud about what we have created and in the future we would love an opportunity to perhaps play some European Tour events but if that's not possible so be it. I think we weighed those consequences up when we made this decision. You know, when the reality starts hitting home, it is disappointing but like I say, expected.

Q. Do you feel this is a one-off because it is unique and it is co-sanctioned with the PGA TOUR, or do you fear it's the way The European Tour will go with other events?

GRAEME McDOWELL: It's very hard to know. Obviously The European Tour are not rolling out their sanctions the way the PGA TOUR have rolled them out and being very clear that we are just not welcome to play. The European Tour have taken it step-by-step and know, disappointed obviously to not get the option to play The Scottish Open.

What will happen in the future, you know, I'm looking at some of the stuff sort of September onwards, seeing some opportunities to play Wentworth and Dunhill Links, things like that. But we'll see. It's just step-by-step right now, and like I say, it's unfortunate but like I say the consequences were weighed up by all players. We knew what the potential expectations were and like I say, it's a little disappointing but it is what it is, we'll deal with it.

Q. How difficult was it to make that decision, knowing that these consequences, which are coming to fruition, were on the horizon?

GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it was very difficult. You know, there were a lot of pros and there were a lot of cons. You had to make your peace with the negative side of things. The hardest thing for me the last three or four weeks is what Brian is mentioning, the negative fallout and being linked to comments, where all you're trying to do is say the right things and do the right thing for a golf organisation that are giving us a phenomenal opportunity. All the tenuous links to the things that these guys have allegedly done when we know that the links are, like I say, tenuous at best. It doesn't mean everyone is Saudi Arabia is a bad person, you know what I'm saying.

These guys are running a very, very lucrative golf product which is being phenomenally well staged, taking great care of the players and the players are loving it and so many good things are happening. But the negativity doesn't make you proud of yourself every day. You wake up. Hopefully the narrative will change to golf soon and we can get on with it.

Q. I think the issue is probably because it's a regime and you guys are there being paid by that regime, and are saying things that are good about that regime and so there for it kind of puts you in the firing line?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I'm not sure guys are necessarily saying good things about the regime. I think we are focussing on the good things that the golf is doing. You know, I'm not in a position to comment on the regime. I don't know enough about it.

Like I say, we are trying to represent the golf tour in a good light because we are just trying to be professional golfers. We are trying to compete and we are trying to continue to do the right things from a golf point of view. Not claiming to do anything more than that, and it's been very hard.

It's been very difficult, like I say, London, especially, to see my name linked to the type of things that people have said. It's hurtful. I get it. It's people's opinions. It's not like I didn't expect it, you know. But I think I'm a reasonably smart person who tries to say smart things and the right things, but there's an inevitability to all this where you end up in a hole because there is no right answer. There is no right answer to a lot of the questions you're being asked.

Q. How difficult is the next fortnight likely to be for you, knowing what the golfing world is going to be doing and you're not a part of it?

GRAEME McDOWELL: It's always difficult to sit home and watch major championships. It is what it is. Of course I want to be competing at a high level. LIV Golf gives me the opportunity each week to tee it up against these guys. But right now I don't have enough World Ranking points and that stops me from getting access to the biggest events in the world. I tried to qualify for the U.S. Open and I missed by one. I had to sit home and watch that one. The Scottish Open was my way into The Open and that's now been taken away from me.

Like I say, these are consequences that I knew were on the horizon, and I've made my peace with it. I'm just going to continue to try to be the best player I can be, playing on the tour that I've committed to and I'm hoping the opportunities will present themselves as we move forward.

Q. Some of your fellow players here on The European Tour this week say they understand exactly the reason why you're going. At the same time, say, you shouldn't be allowed back into The European Tour. Can you understand where they are coming from?

GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. Absolutely. That's the whole have-your-cake-and-eat-it situation. If I'm never allowed to play another golf tournament on The European Tour, will I be surprised? No. I will be disappointed but I won't be surprised. It is difficult because this is such a competitive threat to the biggest tours in the world, the PGA TOUR and the European Tour.

It's a competitive threat. They obviously don't believe in their product well enough to be able to give the players the choice because they feel like if they do give the players the choice they are going to lose 48 of the best players in the world straightaway.

It says a lot about how financially lucrative this is, and there's obviously a lot of good things about the opportunity in 14 events and the team element, all of the things that are different from the 72-hole slog that we play week-in, week-out. It a fantastic slog, though. The PGA TOUR is the best tour in the world.

We all want to co-exist but we know that at the minute there's no way that can possibly happen. You take the top 48 players in the world away for 14 weeks a year, it's pretty tough for the PGA TOUR and The European Tour to be able to suck that up and be able to have their product operate at the same level.

Q. How does it resolve then?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I don't know. I don't know how it's resolved, I really don't and it may not be in my golfing lifetime that it is resolved.

Selfishly, I'm 43 years old next month, and I'm disappointed that like I just said a second ago that I don't have the ability to play the majors and to play the other big events in the world. But my schedule's going to be just fine. I'm happy enough with what I've got to look forward to for the next 18 months from a golfing point of view. It's financially a great opportunity for me and my family.

I hate kind of where it puts me from a headline point of view and kind of what it makes -- what it makes it all look like, but you know, within the circle of LIV, I think the players, there's a great camaraderie, players continue to get better and better from the point of view of the field to the point where you know, it won't be ignored forever by the World Ranking federations and by the major championships.

I'm hoping there's going to be a way back in because I feel like I'm still good enough to compete at a high level any week I play. It's not like I'm saying, I'm hanging up my clubs, I’m finished, I’m off to LIV, all the best. It's not about that.

It's about kind of sick of finishing 150th in the FedEx and banging my head against the wall on the PGA TOUR. It's hard. It's hard every week. You know, I paid my dues. I've done the right things for 20 years of my life, and now I want to go and make some money in a fantastic opportunity.

Q. We've just come from Mount Juliet, Keith Pelley put out a statement last week.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Did he?

Q. He didn't name you.

GRAEME McDOWELL: He basically named me, yeah.

Q. How do you feel about that?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I felt hurt by it, obviously, but I understood it as well and I had already had the conversation with The European Tour about that situation.

So the situation was for me to play the Saudi International earlier this year, which was a European Tour, which I won in 2020 and therefore then had a three-year deal to go back and play in that tournament. I then had to beg them to let me go play in that tournament, and to do they made me commit the Irish Open. Whoa, commit to the Irish Open? God, that's an amazing concept; I've played for the last 20 years. But then obviously things changed and the LIV schedule started to come out, and obviously the second event is against the Irish Open.

So I called them and I said, hey, guys, I'm going to have a problem here because I either have to be all-in and play all LIV events. I can't dip my toe in; I don't have that ability. Therefore, the Irish Open is going to be an issue for me, and I'd like the ability to be able to make that up to you in some way, shape or form because I might not be able to do this.

So that was the conversation that we had. That conversation subsequently got leaked to the press like three hours later throwing me under the bus saying I was having doubts about going to LIV. So my confidential phone call with The European Tour was then leaked to the press.

Q. Was that can Keith direct?

GRAEME McDOWELL: That was with Guy Kinnings. That was with Guy Kinnings. And like I said, I acknowledged the fact that I had said I was going to play the Irish Open, but then I had a scheduling conflict and I said, I can't honour it but I would like to do something in replacement.

My argument was also, are we even going to have a relationship the second that I tee it up in London in the first LIV event, what does that do to our relationship? You want me to play the Irish Open? So are we going to have a good relationship or are we going to have a bad relationship? Because I'm not going to promise to you that I'm going to do things if we are not going to have a relationship, anyway. What's the point?

That's kind of how the conversation went. I tried to be fair and I tried to be open with them and put all my cards on the table. You know, of course I was very disappointed that the second event fell against the Irish Open. I would have loved to have been there last week.

The only thing I can say is I have to be all-in. I'm 43 and 380th in the world. My value to these guys is only so much. I have to try to commit the best I can to the LIV Tour, and that meant not obviously being able to play last week.

Q. Will we see you in the Irish Open in the future?

GRAEME McDOWELL: Absolutely, I had a conversation with the guys, they are trying to create a schedule that co-exists with the PGA TOUR. Unfortunately The European Tour schedule is a secondary kind of thought for them. I mean, you know, I've told them I would not like to be conflicted with the Irish Open next year, to have the opportunity, if in some great world that I'm actually able to compete in the Irish Open.

Q. You would have hosted as well.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Absolutely, yeah. Listen --

Q. You've been supporting the Irish Open for 20 years.

GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. For sure. But I wasn't included this year when they announced Horizon. I found out online. I mean, I wasn't included in that whole conversation which was disappointing at the time, but you know, whatever. Horizon, fantastic sponsor, really happy to see it.

Listen, I'd love to be back at the Irish Open next year and like I say I can only apologise to the Irish golf fans that I wasn't there last week. And like I say, unfortunately I had pretty good reasons for it regards what I have to commit to with the LIV Tour. I have to be all-in with those events. I can't just dip my toe in. I don't have that ability. I don't have a good enough World Ranking to be able to dip my toe in.

Q. I understand the situation that you're in and I'm sure if LIV came to me and said, do you want a job for X amount of money, my wife would say, how quickly do you want me to pack your bags and shall I ring a taxi. Is there a feeling, have you sold your soul to the devil?

GRAEME McDOWELL: Of course people are going to have that opinion.

Q. Do you feel a little bit of guilt inside that, look, I really couldn't turn it down?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I've played golf all over the world for, you know, countries that if you dug deep enough, you might think, what am I doing playing golf here. You could have that conversation so many ways and so many times over the last 20 years.

Q. The moral thing. Low-hanging fruit.

GRAEME McDOWELL: We’ve been all over the Middle East and all over Asia. This has just been blown completely out of all proportion.

Q. And you are on the firing line for some reason.

GRAEME McDOWELL: I was on the firing line in London because for some reason, I was stupid enough to talk about it.

Q. Is this part of your contract that you have to talk more?

GRAEME McDOWELL: Listen in hindsight I wish I had said nothing. I wish I had went with the Brooks Koepka, Pat Perez style press conference last week. Genuinely, I wish would have just said nothing because you know ...

Q. Are you sorry you've joined?

GRAEME McDOWELL: No.

Q. Your legacy, major winner, it's like it's finished.

GRAEME McDOWELL: You're saying my legacy is finished?

Q. Has it tainted it?

GRAEME McDOWELL: In the short term it's tainted because the narrative is so negative. Eventually that narrative will have to change. How many top players are going to have to play in this thing and create a product to where you guys will start talking about golf?

I get it. The amount of shit that's been written about me the last six weeks, it's something I have never had to deal with in my golfing career before.

Q. It's the price. You used the word "hurt."

GRAEME McDOWELL: Of course it hurts my feelings. Like I said, I wish I had kept my mouth shut in London. But I'm just up there trying to do my job for an organisation, the LIV Golf organisation, that are trying to sell a story. They are trying to change the narrative to what it is to the narrative that we want to take which is this is about golf and it's about a new -- just a new product for the fans.

But I mean, we're so focused on, you know, the negativity surrounding the Saudi Arabian regime.

Q. Harrington doesn't see it that way. He thinks there's room for everybody. He says they are my friends and there's room for everybody.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Of course, there's room in the game for this product. There's absolutely room in the game for this product.

Q. Very rational.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Absolutely. Listen, at this point in my career, it's impossible to walk away from the business opportunity that is LIV. Once we get past all the bullshit, there is room in the sport for this product.

Q. Get the World Ranking points.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Get the World Ranking points sorted out and the players continue to come. Listen, it doesn't make me proud of myself every day.

Q. Adare Manor, you were mentioned possibly as Ryder Cup Captain a couple years ago. Is that something that still burns inside you that might come to pass or do you feel that the route you've gone down may have possibly damaged that?

GRAEME McDOWELL: Of course, walking around this morning, I'm looking around thinking this is going to be one of the best Ryder Cup venues of all time. Listen, if I had an opportunity to captain a European Team here, I might hang my hat up when I'm done. That might be pretty much it, like what else do I want to do in this sport.

Q. If it's going to be divisive amongst The European Tour fraternity, would you want to be involved or would you prefer not to?

GRAEME McDOWELL: Listen, I only want to come back to play on The European Tour and to be part of the organisation if I am wanted back. I don't want to fight my way in a courtroom back. I don't want to go through all that stuff. I'm not interested in that.

I'm only interested if think want to co-exist with LIV and they are happy to have the guys come back and support and be part of what it is they built. Because when you look at the guys that are playing LIV from Sergio Garcia to Lee Westwood to Ian Poulter to myself to Paul Casey, they have created the modern day European Tour the past ten years and are the best players in Europe. Still, there's a lot of their heart and loyalty and soul here on The European Tour.

I think they feel there's less loyalty to the PGA TOUR because that was just a vehicle for them which at the time was financially more lucrative, and that was the reason why they all went to the States and the reason why I went to the States is because it was a better business opportunity than The European Tour.

Now there's another business opportunity that's better than other things. So we lose the PGA TOUR and we're a bit like, that's disappointing, but there's something -- there's so much more love and soul involved in the European Tour. This is where we all grew up and we feel more ownership than we do on the PGA TOUR because, you know, PGA TOUR is a fantastic vehicle but I don't think we were ever embraced the same way they embraced the young American players. The European Tour boys were always the outsiders. Listen, a lot of us made a great living over there and it was fantastic.

Q. But when you're at a standstill over there, you get to that age, 20 years ago, you'd have been finished pretty much by now competitively and where you are in your ranking, the number of courses you can compete on. You have this opportunity, it's like manna from heaven.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Kind of lost my spark a little bit. Felt like I was going through the motions on the PGA TOUR a little bit. Still love the game but you know, forearms and just getting hurt, and like definitely wasn't a lot of spark there.

Obviously there's a certain energy level that comes with a new opportunity, teeing it up and no cut every week. You know, I do feel fresher and I feel more energised by the opportunity that's in front of me because it is different and there is some guarantee there and there is huge upside.

Like I say, once we can get through all the stuff and start focussing on the game a bit -- it's going to be awhile. It's not going to take months. It could take a year. It could take two years, who knows.

Q. Should these players win their case and The European Tour lift the ban, would you go to Scotland?

GRAEME McDOWELL: No.

Q. You wouldn't go? Even if all the bans are listed?

GRAEME McDOWELL: Unless The European Tour put out a statement and say all is forgiven, we love you guys, come on back. I don't want to go to Scotland because some arbitrary sports council panel decides that's the correct thing. That's not the way I want to go to the Scottish Open. Like I say, unless some kind of miracle happens, I go back to Florida on Wednesday.

Q. What's the dream scenario, if you could look at the silver lining to any cloud, what do you see as the future being for you and the whole enterprise? What's the end game?

GRAEME McDOWELL: For me?

Q. What would you love to see happen?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I'd love to say all the tours in the world co-exist together and just saying, you know okay there's LIV, there's 14 events, go play. Come back, if you want to be a PGA TOUR member, you've got to play 15 and that's what you've got to do so now you need 29 events including the majors, so if that's your schedule and you want to be a PGA TOUR member, great, all the best; and whatever The European Tour want.

You know, to me, play 15 on the LIV Tour and plus the live schedule, if guys want to do that, give them the opportunity. It's a pretty big ask from a scheduling point of view. But like I say, that's the coexisting argument. You play 14 over there, you can't play 15 over there -- because Brooks Koepka didn't want to play 29 events a year, he has already said that, right.

Q. You know Jimmy Dunne (who lost employees in the Twin Towers and put their families through college and gave them jobs. He’s asked players to stop saying it’s for their families or to grow the game and asked them to just stand up and say it’s for the money).

GRAEME McDOWELL: I don't read stuff anymore.

Q. The 42 people that were buried and the 42 families he put through college, saying, look, guys, just say it as it is.

GRAEME McDOWELL: If you look into the 9/11 stuff, it's tenuous about best who those guys were. Like I hear you, one of my very good friends lost his son. I called him two days after the stuff came out, because I needed to hear it from him, because if he hated my guts, I needed to hear it from him. He gets it. He's a golf guy. He's a business guy. He's like, my boy was killed by the Arabs. Not every person in Saudi Arabia is a bad person.

If he had been killed by an Irish guy, does that mean every person in Ireland is a bad person. It's like, it's so tenuous that it's so, like -- listen, I could stand here and defend it. But I felt like, yeah, there's no point. One of the most horrendous things in our lifetime.

Of course there's some tenuous links to Saudi Arabia but you don't see the biggest companies in the world not doing business out there and the biggest American companies not doing business out there.

Q. According to the New York Times, the links that have been made between the Saudis and 9/11 appear to have been shut down by the US government.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Joe Biden, he's going to jump on a plane and sit down with MBS (Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia) in two weeks' time because he needs his oil. But golfers, we're the worst people in the world. How are we the worst people in the world?

Q. What if someone got you all together, PGA TOUR and European Tour, a Henry Kissinger type figure, sit down in a room and say, lads, how can we compromise that protects the sanctity of the four majors, gives you your tour, and there’s the PGA TOUR, European Tour and you have your bit there? Is that what it's going to take?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I don't know. I don't know, mate.

Q. There must be some form of compromise?

GRAEME McDOWELL: I don’t know. Maybe JP will sit them all down tonight and sort them out. JP is the only man - listen, there might not be an event in the world again for the next four or five years that looks like this. So God bless him.


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