Home Sport Dustin Johnson heads field in Saudi-backed LIV Golf opener

Dustin Johnson heads field in Saudi-backed LIV Golf opener

55

Former world number one Dustin Johnson will head the field for the inaugural R391,700,000 LIV Golf Invitational Series event in England, the new Saudi-backed golf circuit said.

Dustin Johnson head the Saudi backed LIV Golf opener. Photo: Erik S. Lesser/EPA

London – Former world number one Dustin Johnson will head the field for the inaugural $25 million (R391,700,000) LIV Golf Invitational Series event in England, the new Saudi-backed golf circuit said Wednesday.

The American two-time major champion said in February that he would stay loyal to the US PGA Tour, but in an apparent U-turn Johnson was one of two top-20 ranked players listed in the field for the 54-hole tournament starting on June 9.

Former British Open champion and world number 20 Louis Oosthuizen, former Masters champions Charl Schwartzel and Sergio Garcia, plus former US Open champions Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer are also in the field.

The US PGA Tour has refused to grant releases for its players in the LIV event, which clashes with next week’s Canadian Open.

Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson’s name was absent despite previously expressing support for the money-spinning breakaway circuit.

“Dustin has been contemplating the opportunity off and on for the past couple of years,” said Johnson’s manager David Winkler in a statement quoted by US media.

“Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it.”

The tournament at Centurion Club at St Albans, north of London, will have the largest purse in golf history at $25 million, almost double that of any major, with $4 million going to the winner.

Winkler went on to explain Johnson’s apparent change of mind, a little over three months since he stated he was “committed” to the PGA Tour.

“Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but in the end felt this was too compelling to pass up.”

Mickelson, who became golf’s oldest major champion at last year’s US PGA Championship at age 50, hasn’t played since making controversial comments about LIV Golf.

He called the venture’s Saudi backers “scary” with a “horrible record on human rights”, but said he was willing to work with them for money leverage over the PGA Tour.

There were 42 players listed in the 48-player Centurion field, which will be completed with players who qualify via an Asian Tour-sanctioned International Series tournament beginning on Thursday in London.

Former world number one Lee Westwood and Ryder Cup stalwart Ian Poulter have also signed up.

But many leading players have rejected the new golf circuit, including world number two Jon Rahm and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.

If the PGA Tour were to impose sanctions — which could mean loss of tour membership — on those competing, it could open up a battle with players in the law courts.

“The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future,” LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said in a statement reported by Sports Illustrated.

“We couldn’t be happier at the diversity of our field, featuring players from around the world including major champions and those making their debut with us, competing in their first professional event.”

Golf icon Jack Nicklaus, 82, revealed he had turned down an offer worth more than $100 million to be the face of the new circuit as he on Tuesday pledged his allegiance to the PGA Tour.

Ahead of this week’s Memorial Tournament, which Nicklaus hosts, the 18-time major champion said: “I’ve got zero interest in wanting to do something like that. I don’t care what kind of money they would have thrown at me.”

Norman last month announced the LIV series had been given an extra $2 billion in funding to expand its schedule.

But the source of that money – the Saudi sovereign wealth fund – is controversial, with Amnesty International adamant that the tour is another example of the “sportswashing” of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Norman caused a storm last month as he batted away the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate by saying “we’ve all made mistakes”.

AFP

Previous articleI lost to a better player, says Djokovic
Next articleHugo Broos laments lack of meeting with PSL coaches