La Gaceta De Mexico - Dustin Johnson heads field for $25 mn Saudi-backed LIV Golf opener

Dustin Johnson heads field for $25 mn Saudi-backed LIV Golf opener
Dustin Johnson heads field for $25 mn Saudi-backed LIV Golf opener / Photo: © AFP

Dustin Johnson heads field for $25 mn Saudi-backed LIV Golf opener

Former world number one Dustin Johnson will head the field for the inaugural $25 million LIV Golf Invitational Series event in England next week, the Saudi-backed golf circuit said Wednesday.

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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 on the LIV Golf website for the 54-hole tournament starting on June 9.

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

The LIV 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.

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.

Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson's name was absent from the money-spinning event despite his previous support for the upstart series.

Mickelson, who became golf's oldest major champion when he won last year's US PGA Championship at age 50, withdrew from defending his crown last month and hasn't played since his 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 US 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 for the event.

- Sportswashing accusation -

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 on its members who participate in the controversial event, it could open a battle with players that could end up in court.

"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 commissioner and CEO Greg Norman said in a statement, according to 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 act as one of the faces of the new circuit and on Tuesday pledged his allegiance to the PGA Tour.

Ahead of the PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament, which Nicklaus hosts, he 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.

"My allegiance has been to the PGA Tour. I grew up on the PGA Tour. I helped found the PGA Tour as it is today. My allegiance is there, and it's going to stay there."

Norman last month announced the tour 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".