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Report links Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood to new Saudi golf league

·3 min read
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The Greg Norman-led, Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, a rival to the PGA Tour, is preparing to announce a roster of players that includes several notable names, according to a new report in the Telegraph.

Norman is pressing forward with the venture despite the intense public criticism of Phil Mickelson's connections to the endeavor, and indicated to the Telegraph that he will be formally announcing "marquee names" that will join the tour in the coming weeks.

The Telegraph report names two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, longtime PGA Tour player Kevin Na, and Ryder Cup stalwarts Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are likely to join the series. (Poulter, Westwood, Na and Watson, all of whom are active on social media, have not publicly disputed the report.)

For the players, LIV Golf offers one significant temptation: money. The eight-event tour will begin this summer at the Centurion Club in St. Albans, England. Future events are scheduled for Portland, Boston, Chicago, Bangkok and Jeddah; other locations include Trump Bedminster in New Jersey.

The Centurion event is slated to have a $25 million purse for a 48-player field, and other tournaments will have similar bounties. For perspective, last week's Masters had a $15 million total purse, highest ever for the event. Norman said he has sent invitations to 250 players, but plans to put on the event regardless of who's playing. The lure to golf's biggest names, Norman believes, will be the chance of winning big against a less-talented field.

“Quite honestly, it doesn't matter who plays, we're going to put the event on,” Norman told the Telegraph. “There's a $4 million first prize. I hope a kid who’s 350th in the world wins. It’ll change his life, his family’s life. And then a few of our events will go by and the top players will see someone winning $6 million, $8 million, and say, ‘Enough is enough, I know I can beat these guys week in, week out with my hands tied behind my back.’”

Again for comparison, Scottie Scheffler took home $2.7 million for winning the Masters.

Mickelson had been connected to the LIV venture until his comments about the tour's Saudi backers became public. “They’re scary [expletives] to get involved with,” Mickelson told veteran golf reporter Alan Shipnuck. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

The barrage of criticism that followed those remarks drove Mickelson into hiding; he did not play in the Masters and has not made any public comments in months. At the same time, multiple top names actively distanced themselves from the endeavor, including Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson. Tiger Woods proclaimed himself loyal to the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy, never attached to the project, called it "dead in the water."

Norman acknowledged that the Mickelson controversy was a setback, but contended that the project is still rolling forward. “We’ve respected the Masters and let it go off, but now our journey is finally coming to fruition —for the players, not for me,” he said. “Their rightful place to have what they want. That’s why they are still very, very, very interested. We have players signed, contrary to the white noise you’re hearing out there."

The Centurion Club event is scheduled to take place in June, one week before the U.S. Open.

Greg Norman's upstart golf league is seeking big names. (Luke Walker / Getty Images)
Greg Norman's upstart golf league is seeking big names. (Luke Walker / Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.