Rory McIlroy understands why players are joining Saudi-backed breakaway tour
Dustin Johnson will play in the opening event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series next week in Hertfordshire – with Rory McIlroy admitting he understands the lure.
The former world number one will headline the new competition’s inaugural event at the Centurion Club from June 9-11, just four months after committing himself to the PGA Tour.
Johnson, currently world number 13, is the biggest name so far to announce he will take part and risks sanctions by the PGA, which has not granted members permission to play.
The 37-year-old American’s agent David Winkle said in a statement: “Dustin has been contemplating the opportunity off-and-on for the past couple of years.
“Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it. Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but in the end, felt this was too compelling to pass up.”
McIlroy sympathised with those who have been criticised for supporting the breakaway tour.
“You know, you have some guys in a position where like they are literally not guaranteed a job next year,” he told a press conference.
“As we’ve seen, it’s a young man’s game nowadays. So someone that isn’t guaranteed their Tour card next year, another entity comes along and says, we’ll guarantee you this amount for three years, plus you’re playing for a ton more prize money, and you’re playing less events, you can spend more time with your family.
“I mean, whenever you sit down and look at some of those things, you know, it’s very appealing to some of those guys that are in that position.
“Again, I’m not in that position, and it’s not something that I would do. But you know, you at least have to try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see where they are coming from.”
The winner at the Centurion Club will receive GBP 3million out of a total prize fund of GBP 20m and Johnson will join the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell in a 48-man field.
Johnson had been scheduled to play in the Canadian Open, which also starts next week, but will now line up in the first of eight new worldwide LIV Series events to be held from June to October.
His decision is in conflict with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), which is one of his sponsors as well as the title partner of the Canadian Open.
RBC said in a statement that it was “extremely disappointed” in Johnson’s decision but added: “We wish him well.”
LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman has been heavily criticised for heading up the breakaway tour, with its Saudi investors accused of “sportswashing” their country’s poor human rights record.
But Norman said: “Free agency has finally come to golf. This is an opportunity to start a movement that will change the course of history by bringing new and open competition to the sport we all love.
“The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future.”
The LIV Golf Series will adopt a new format in a bid to make the sport more exciting for fans, with 12 teams of four players contesting in each three-round event to determine team and individual winners.
Amnesty International UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said the human rights group was “not telling golfers to boycott this tournament”, but that it was a bid by the Saudi authorities to distract from their human rights record.
DP World Tour declined to comment on any possible sanctions for players who compete at Centurion after being denied the required release.
Tiger Woods backs up Rory McIlroy and says LIV Golf boss Greg Norman ‘has to go’
Woods called McIlroy a ‘true leader’ as he spoke out about the Saudi-funded breakaway.
Tiger Woods withdraws from Hero World Challenge due to foot problem
The former world number one has not played since the Open Championship in July.
Tiger Woods to partner son Charlie in next month’s PNC Championship
Woods has not played since the Open Championship in July.
I want to fulfil my dreams – Adam Scott in no mood to lower expectations
Scott is seeking a third Australian PGA Championship title this week in his native Queensland.
Nicolas Colsaerts named a vice-captain for Europe’s Ryder Cup team
The Belgian joins Thomas Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari on Luke Donald’s staff.
Ireland’s Ancient East: Golf attractions alongside stunning beauty of Kildare
Ireland has a rich mix of tourist attractions across its varied and beautiful terrain.
Rory McIlroy crowned top golfer in Europe despite Jon Rahm claiming Dubai title
The Spaniard’s two-shot victory over England’s Tyrrell Hatton and Sweden’s Alex Noren was his third in six years at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Leona Maguire shoots day’s best to tie Lydia Ko in chasing LPGA’s largest prize
Maguire is chasing her second title while Ko is close to claiming her second straight LPGA Tour player of the year.
Rory McIlroy edges ahead of Matt Fitzpatrick in race to be European number one
McIlroy’s third round of 65 at the DP World Tour Championship put him back ahead of his rival in the rankings.
Lydia Ko firms lead for biggest prize in women’s golf history at LPGA finale
The 25-year-old turned a one-shot lead into a five-shot edge as she chased down the two-million-dollar (£1.6million) prize.