DP World Tour follows PGA Tour in blocking player release for Saudi-backed rebel series

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Greg Norman and LIV Golf Invitational are on a collision course with the two main tours
Greg Norman and LIV Golf Invitational are on a collision course with the two main tours

The DP World Tour is following the PGA Tour's lead and refusing to grant permission to players such as Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood to appear in next month's first $25million Saudi rebel event in England.

The news will further infuriate Greg Norman, the chief executive of the $255million LIV Golf Series that is set to begin in St Albans in four weeks' time.

The Australian issued a furious response to Tuesday's late-night move by the US circuit, and his mood will inevitably descend further when he realises neither tour will issue releases for any of the LIV tournaments.

Norman accused the PGA Tour of running "an illegal monopoly" after players including Phil Mickelson, Garcia and Westwood were denied permission to play in next month's event. The PGA Tour made the announcement late on Tuesday night, just before its deadline to inform up to 30-plus members who had sought clearance to appear in the opener of the eight-tournament series.

It is fair to say the judgment came as a surprise, although whispers had gained volume that the PGA Tour would signal the strength of the “strategic alliance” it signed in 2020 with the DP World Tour - formerly the European Tour - and set a precedent.

Under the PGA Tour’s regulations, players are allowed up to three conflicting-event releases and earlier this year granted about two dozen requests for players to play the Saudi International, an event on the Asian Tour schedule. But not this time. As well as Mickelson, Garcia and Westwood, Poulter is another to have applied as did world No 15 Louis Oosthuizen.

What follows next is almost certainly a legal battle. Norman, the chief executive of the series, spoke before the announcement, saying he had talked to players who had registered to play at the Centurion Club and who had told him they would play regardless.

He released a statement after the Tour's refusal became public, saying: “Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament.

"This is particularly disappointing in light of the Tour’s non-profit status, where its mission is purportedly ‘to promote the common interests of professional tournament golfers.’ Instead, the Tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market.

"The Tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive. But no matter what obstacles the PGA Tour puts in our way, we will not be stopped. We will continue to give players options that promote the great game of golf globally."

The PGA Tour declined to comment officially, instead referring Telegraph Sport to the relatively brief email sent to the players. There was no mention of the nature or extent of the punishment for anyone who does ignore the ruling.

“We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament Regulations. As such, Tour members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event under our Regulations,” said the letter signed by PGA Tour Executive Vice President Tyler Dennis. “As a membership organisation, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players.”

'I do not answer to MBS'

The Saudi saga has been running for at least two years and Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, has previously threatened to issue any lifetime bans to any pro joining a rival circuit which the Tour perceived as an existential threat. The LIV series - mischievously referred to by Dennis as the "Saudi Golf League", despite Norman’s attempts to rebrand - has emphatically now been placed in this category and civil war in the sport awaits.

The general feeling in the locker room has been that the Saudis will welcome a legal battle, because, as Norman’s response, their expensively assembled crew of lawyers believe the restraint of trade laws would rule in their favour.

Yet it was also thought that Monahan would keep his powder dry and allow players who submitted forms to play in the second LIV event, which takes place on US soil in Portland at the beginning of July. Five of the tournaments are being held on Stateside, including the $50million finale at Doral, the Miami layout owned by former President Donald Trump.

However in a move which will surely relieve and bolster Wentworth HQ the matter has been brought to a head.

Norman is due to host a press conference at the Centurion on Wednesday and his comments away from a careful-crafted PR statement will be fascinating.

The first LIV Golf event will be held at the Centurion Club in St Albans - GETTY IMAGES
The first LIV Golf event will be held at the Centurion Club in St Albans - GETTY IMAGES

Certainly he arrived in London on Tuesday in bullish mood, insisting that he “does not answer” to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and saying that the Kingdom should “own up” to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and “talk about it”.

However, the Australian also revealed that the Saudi Public Investment Fund has pledged $2bn in “extra funding” over the next three years to establish a breakaway global league.

While the increase in finances will cause added alarm in the professional male game’s corridors of power, the claim that LIV Golf Investments is “independent” is bound to cause many eyeballs to roll.

“They're not my bosses,” Norman, 67, told Sky Sports. “We [LIV Golf] are independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I can categorically tell you, that’s not the case. I do not answer to MBS.”

When asked if he understands why there are concerns about the funding emerging from "a brutal dictatorship", Norman replied: “One hundred per cent - that was reprehensible what happened to Khashoggi [the journalist and US citizen who was murdered and chopped up] right? Own up to it, talk about it. But we go back into Saudi Arabia and they're making a cultural change. They don't want to have that stigma,”

Since being named as LIV’s chief executive last November, Norman has consistently dismissed the charges of “sportswashing”.

Norman is clearly attempting to distance the series from his accusations of laundering the Kingdom’s reputation. “This is Greg talking - I'm not talking on behalf of the [Saudi] government or anybody,” he said. “I'm talking on behalf of my true belief, my passion. And when was the last time somebody wanted to invest $2billion into the game of golf?”

The winner at the Centurion will collect $4m, with last place in the 48-man field receiving $120,000. LIV plans 10 events in 2023 followed by “a full season” of 14 events in 2024 and 2025. Centurion, like the other seven events, is being classed by Norman as “baiter tournaments”, aiming to lure the very big names who have so far largely resisted the overtures.

However, Norman claimed there will be “six members of the world’s top 50, 19 of the top 100 and 36 of the top 150” in Hertfordshire. Whether that now holds true remains to be seen.