Golf: British Open champion Smith joins LIV Golf

As world No. 2, Cameron Smith will become the highest-ranked player to compete in a LIV Golf event. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - British Open champion Cameron Smith has become the latest leading player to sign up to the breakaway LIV Golf Series which on Tuesday (Aug 30) announced that he was in the field for its next event.

The Australian was one of six new recruits for the Saudi-backed tour for the LIV Golf Invitational Boston, from Sept 2 to 4.

As the world's No. 2, the 29-year-old Smith will become the highest-ranked player to compete in a LIV Golf event.

Smith was linked repeatedly to LIV Golf shortly after winning the 150th British Open, at St Andrews, last month, but avoided discussion of the subject while playing in this month's PGA FedExCup play-offs.

A LIV statement issued on Tuesday said Smith would be among five other players making their debuts among a field of 98 at the International in Massachusetts including compatriot Marc Leishman, leading Chilean golfer Joaquin Niemann, Harold Varner III (world No. 46), Cameron Tringale (No. 55) and India's top-ranked pro Anirban Lahiri (No. 92).

LIV Golf's record US$25 million (S$35 million) purses and 54-hole format have attracted several big-name players, including Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson.

But its creation has sparked a bitter split with the established US PGA Tour and a flurry of lawsuits.

Four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy has been one of LIV Golf's most outspoken critics among players.

And the 33-year-old from Northern Ireland rammed home his point on Sunday after winning the US$18 million top prize in the season-ending PGA Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.

"It means an awful lot," McIlroy said.

"This is an incredibly proud moment for me but it should also be an incredibly proud moment for the PGA Tour. They have had some hard times this year but we're getting through it."

LIV players have faced tough questions over Saudi Arabia's human rights record and have been accused of greed in chasing the huge rewards on offer.

The likes of McIlroy have effectively suggested LIV events are not much more than exhibition golf, with no halfway cut and small fields taking part in 54-hole events rather than the traditional 72.

But last week PGA commissioner Jay Monahan said tour players had agreed to compete in 20 events next season, included 12 "elevated" stops with US$20 million in prize money and minimum season pay amounts for fully exempt players.

England's Lee Westwood, among those who jumped to LIV Golf for its record US$25 million purses, told Golf Digest in an interview published on Friday that he sees the PGA as trying to duplicate what LIV Golf has already done.

"I laugh at what the PGA Tour players have come up with," Westwood told the magazine.

"It's just a copy of what LIV is doing. There are a lot of hypocrites out there.

"They all say LIV is 'not competitive.' They all point at the no-cut aspect of LIV and the short fields. Now, funnily enough, they are proposing 20 events that look a lot like LIV."

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