Exclusive: Nearly 40 DP World Tour players seek spot in first $25m Saudi rebel event - even more than feared

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Exclusive: Nearly 40 players seek spot in first $25m Saudi rebel event - even more than feared - USA TODAY
Exclusive: Nearly 40 players seek spot in first $25m Saudi rebel event - even more than feared - USA TODAY

Even Thorbjorn Olesen’s stunning eagle-birdie climax to win the Betfred British Masters at The Belfry on Sunday could not silence the feverish locker room chatter and speculation over who is seeking to play in the Saudis' first $25 million rebel event next month.

Monday is the deadline for players on the DP World Tour - formerly the European Tour - to submit their requests to appear at the LIV Golf Invitational in St Albans and it is understood that the number is fast approaching 40.

That is even more than feared and includes Europe Ryder Cup heroes Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer, as well as world No 15 Louis Oosthuizen. However, the silver lining is that the ever-growing list is mainly populated by over-30s.

“Most of the players who have applied have no idea if they’ll actually get into the field, as it’s limited to 48,” an insider said. “We didn’t expect as many rank-and-file pros to ask to play, although with $4m for first place and $120,000 for last perhaps it should have been expected. There are a few surprise names but they are largely veterans. Very few under-20s which is good.”

The PGA Tour’s cut-off point was two weeks ago and, in all, there have been more than 70 registrations, with LIV Golf - the entity running the Saudi bid to revolutionside the game - claiming that 15 of the world’s top 100 have sent in forms. Players on the US circuit should discover on Monday if they will be granted permission to tee it up in Hertfordshire.

Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, is expected to give the green light on this occasion and keep his powder dry, and his legal team on the leash, until the second LIV event, which is due to take place in Portland, Oregon, at the end of next month.

Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour chief executive, has no such luxury and must decide quickly how to respond as the Saudi’s plant their golf flag on UK soil. It is believed he will not grant releases, but will stop short of a ban for those who play anyway. There is no deadline for him to deliver his verdict, although he will not want it hanging over the Tour.

Pelley’s dilemma does not end there as the Asian Tour is staging a $2m event - funded by the Saudis - the week before the LIV opener at Slaley Hall. Telegraph Sport has learned that Wentworth HQ also received multiple requests to play at the Northumberland venue.

Olesen savours 'special' British Masters win after 'tough years'

Thorbjorn Olesen with his trophy - ACTION IMAGES
Thorbjorn Olesen with his trophy - ACTION IMAGES

The Centurion Club will no doubt have the riches when it stages its $25m Saudi event event next month, but will it begin to boast the drama that The Belfry witnessed on Sunday?

Five months after being cleared of sexual assault in a London courroom, Thorbjorn Olesen holed 30-footers on the final two holes to win the Betfred British Masters by a shot and collect £300,000 for his seventh Tour win.

And, although that is roughly 10 times less than the winner of the LIV Golf opener 90 miles south in Hertfordshire will pick up, there can be no doubt the Dane’s 3-3 finish was priceless.

For the second day running, the former Ryder Cup player eagled the 17th and birdied the 18th to squeeze out Swede Sebastian Soderburg. The Ryder Cup venue has staged many classic finales before, but what a final hour the grandstand on that famous closing hole enjoyed.

First Richie Ramsay went to the 18th with a one-shot lead over Soderbug, who was in the clubhouse on nine-under after a 68. Yet the Scot hit his second into the water and the resulting double-bogey saw the former US Amateur champion sign for a 71 and slip into a tie for third with countryman Conor Syme and South African Justin Walters.

Meanwhile, Olesen, the overnight leader, looked to have wasted his chance of a first title in almost four years with bogeys on the 14th and 15th. And when his bunker shot lipped out of the hole on the 16th, extra holes were surely the most that he could have hoped for. But Olesen, the world No 376, crushed poor Soderburg with those incredible putts.

Of course, this was an emotional victory for the 32 year-old. In 2018, Olesen played in his first Ryder Cup and was an established member of the world’s top 50. But the following year he was charged with sexually assaulting a woman on a flight to England after playing in a World Golf Championship in Memphis.

Olesen claimed he turned into an "automaton" and was not in control of his body after drinking and taking prescription-only sleeping pills. Olesen, who lives in London, was acquitted by a jury in December.

"It's been a long time since I won and it's been some tough years but luckily I had some great people around me, especially my partner Lauren [Zafer]," Olesen said. "It's been extremely hard, really tough and that's why this one feels really special.”