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Even though the second men’s major of the year, the PGA Championship, is coming up next week, the No. 1 story in the sport remains a start-up organization’s attempt to disrupt the PGA Tour. Backed by the essentially unlimited funds of the Saudi Arabian government and fronted by Australian golf great Greg Norman, the LIV Golf Invitational Series is trying to lure players away from the PGA Tour with staggering purses.
$25 million US is up for grabs at each LIV regular-season tournament, including $4 million for the winner — both exceeding the records for prize money on the established tour. Other enticements include a shorter 54-hole format and smaller 48-man fields with no cuts, so everyone who shows up gets paid handsomely.
But LIV’s recruiting efforts took a major hit when Phil Mickelson said the quiet part loud, telling golf writer Alan Shipnuck that, basically, he was willing to overlook Saudi Arabia’s horrendous human-rights record for this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.” (Safe to assume the mountains of cash appeal to Phil too.)
The backlash from Lefty’s comments seemed to scare off anyone who was on the fence about jumping ship, leaving LIV with Mickelson and other semi-washed guys like Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood as its biggest names. Norman did his league no favours either on Wednesday when he responded to a question about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged involvement in the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by saying “Look, we’ve all made mistakes…”
The PGA Tour vs. LIV battle could raise the profile of the Canadian Open. All eyes will be on it to see who shows up in Toronto, who heads to London (where the purse will be triple what’s offered at the Canadian Open) and who sits out the week altogether.
Maybe the Tour will even implore some of its stars who might not have made the trip to Canada to play there as a show of defiance against the upstart league. World No. 1 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler has already committed to play, and so has No. 7 Rory McIlroy — the most vocal critic of the Saudi-backed league. Also in are No. 4 Cameron Smith and No. 11 Dustin Johnson, the former Masters and U.S. Open champ who is Wayne Gretzky’s son in law.
In any event, Canada’s national men’s championship will be in the spotlight this year in a way it probably hasn’t been since Tiger Woods’ legendary sand shot in 2000 at Glen Abbey. Read more about the Canadian Open’s role in the escalating golf war here.