NEW YORK (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS) - Australian Cameron Smith and Harold Varner III of the United States are among the next wave of golfers planning to defect to the upstart LIV Golf Invitational Series, multiple outlets reported on Saturday (Aug 27).
The pair, along with Australian Marc Leishman, Joaquin Niemann of Chile, American Cameron Tringale and Anirban Lahiri of India, are expected to play in this week's LIV event outside Boston.
Chilean Mito Pereira is also expected to make the move but will not play in LIV's fourth event, starting on Friday.
Golf Channel first reported the moves and the defection of Smith is the most significant yet since the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit began in June.
In world No. 2 Smith, who won the Open Championship last month and the Players Championship in March - considered the fifth Major - the Greg Norman-fronted tour has snagged not only one of the most in-form players on the US PGA Tour but also someone who is in his prime.
Four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy hinted at the 29-year-old's exit at the season-ending Tour Championship, where he was five-under before the third round on Saturday was halted due to lightning.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, led the 29-player field at 19-under par through 12 holes, one stroke ahead of playing partner Xander Schauffele, the Tokyo Olympic champion.
"Cam and I get on really well," the Northern Irishman said.
"(We) always have done. Again, I keep saying, no matter what decisions are made or what choices are made by anyone, it doesn't make them a bad person.
"Does it make me disagree with them? Of course it does. But I disagree with a lot of people that I like and love."
Smith has been the subject of rumours about jumping ship for weeks and his impending departure throws his participation in next month's Presidents Cup in North Carolina into doubt.
The biennial event, which pits the United States team against the International team, excluding Europe, is owned by the US PGA.
Smith and 18th-ranked Niemann have both earned automatic Presidents Cup for the International team, but the US PGA has imposed indefinite bans on LIV defectors. A suspension will bar the duo from turning out for the tournament.
Pereira, another who has been selected for the International team, is reportedly holding off on the switch until the event is over.
In February, Varner won the Saudi International, the Asian Tour's flagship event, while Lahiri is a seven-time Asian winner and has won twice on the DP World Tour.
Leishman has six US PGA triumphs to his name - the last coming at last year's Zurich Classic - and Tringale holds the record for having the most career earnings at US$17 million (S$23.7 million) without having earned a US PGA victory.
The mass defections come amid an ongoing lawsuit filed by LIV players over their US PGA bans. LIV has promised to cover all legal fees arising from the case and on Saturday, Golf Channel reported that circuit added itself to the lawsuit.