GOLF

Phil Mickelson back to golf at first Saudi-backed LIV event, starting Thursday in London

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After a four-month hiatus, Phil Mickelson returns to competitive golf on the new LIV Golf Invitational series.

Mickelson, a six-time major champion, was added to the field on Monday for LIV Golf’s first event, which is due to start on Thursday at the Centurion Club outside London.

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“Phil Mickelson is unequivocally one of the greatest golfers of this generation,” LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said in a statement. “His contributions to the sport and his connection to fans around the world cannot be overstated and we are grateful to have him. He reinforces an exciting area for London where we are proud to usher in a new era for golf.”

Mickelson, who hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines in late January, joins a 48-man field that also includes two big winners Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer, as well four other big winners: Sergio Garcia (Masters 2017), Charl Schwartzel (Masters 2011), Graeme McDowell (US Open 2010) and Louis Oosthuizen (Open Championship 2010).

Mickelson skipped the Masters and the PGA Championship, an event he won last year, after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour’s “odious greed” and Saudi financiers at LIV Golf caused a firestorm. The LIV Golf Series is led by Norman, a former World No. 1 golfer and two-time Open champion, and funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

On May 11, the PGA Tour denied posting conflicting events to players who had asked them to play at the Centurion Club. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told players’ agents at last week’s Memorial in Columbus, Ohio that players had to choose between the tour and LIV Golf and could not play on both tours. Monahan threatened to discipline players who participate in the LIV Golf Series without release, with potential penalties such as fines, suspensions and/or bans.

On Saturday, longtime PGA Tour member Kevin Na, who also competes with the Centurion Club, resigned from the tour instead of facing possible disciplinary or legal action.

Mickelson, one of the most popular players of his generation, has already paid a heavy price for his controversial comments. Several of his long-time sponsors, including Amstel Light, KPMG and Workday, have ended their relationship with him. Callaway, who signed an equipment contract with Mickelson until the end of his career, broke off his relationship with him.

Mickelson apologized for his remarks, which were made to author Alan Shipnuck, who was writing an unauthorized biography of the player popularly known as ‘Lefty’. During the conversation, which Shipnuck said took place in November, Mickelson said he was working with two players to hire attorneys to draft operating agreements for the new circuit.

“These are some scary mothers to get involved with,” Mickelson told Shipnuck. “… They killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible human rights record. They execute people there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because it’s a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works.”

While many stars such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth have pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour, Mickelson and 13 others are jumping on Norman’s new circuit.

LIV Golf is offering staggering purses — a total prize money of $255 million this year, including $25 million for each of the seven regular season tournaments — that are the richest in professional golf.

The eight-event LIV series will include five tournaments played in the United States, including a Tag Team Championship final at the Trump Doral in Miami from October 28-30. The second LIV event is scheduled for July 1-3 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland, Oregon.

The LIV Golf Invitational series will consist of 54-hole events, with no cuts and shotgun tee times “to ensure a faster and more exciting pace.” There will be a maximum of 48 players on 12 four-man teams at each event, and rosters will be determined by a draft, which is scheduled for Tuesday.

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