Golf: Phil Mickelson seeks PGA release for Saudi-backed series opener

Phil Mickelson has not played since February following his remarks concerning the new Saudi-funded venture. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP, REUTERS) - Phil Mickelson sparked intrigue about his possible return to golf on Monday (April 25) after applying for a release to play in the first event of a lucrative Saudi Arabian-backed golf tour in June.

His management company confirmed in a statement that the 51-year-old six-time Major winner was seeking approval to play in the June 9-11 LIV Golf Invitational outside London - but stressed he had not yet confirmed his participation.

The former world No. 1 has not played since triggering uproar in February following publication of his remarks made last year to author Alan Shipnuck concerning the new Saudi-funded venture.

Mickelson described the Saudi financial backers of the proposed league as "scary" with a "horrible record on human rights" but said he was willing to deal with them in order to gain leverage to "reshape" the United States-based PGA Tour.

Mickelson, the reigning PGA Championship winner, subsequently apologised for the comments and announced he was taking some "desperately needed time away" from golf.

However his eventual return could conceivably feature participation at the LIV Golf event at Centurion Golf Club outside London.

Steve Loy, co-president of Sportfive management, said in a statement that Mickelson was registered to play in both next month's PGA Championship, where he will be defending his title, as well as the June 16-19 US Open, which takes place the week after the LIV London event.

"Our client Phil Mickelson is officially registered to play in the PGA Championship as well as the US Open," Loy said.

"We have also filed a request on his behalf for a release to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational in London, June 9-11. This request complies with the deadline of April 25 set forth by the PGA Tour to compete in a conflicting tour event.

"Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play. Any actions taken are in no way a reflection of a final decision made, but rather to keep all options open."

Mickelson's possible return comes amid intense speculation about other players who may opt to take part in the Saudi-backed venture.

The money-spinning series will offer purses of US$25 million (S$34.3 million) per tournament - making every leg of the series more lucrative than the richest event on the PGA Tour, and roughly more than double the prize money on offer for each of golf's four majors.

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper meanwhile reported on Monday that European Ryder Cup stars Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were all considering playing in the event.

Meanwhile, the LIV Golf Invitational Series announced that it would hold its season-ending Team Championship at Trump National Doral in Miami.

The Team Championship will feature a US$50 million purse and conclude an eight-tournament series that kicks off in London in June.

The Saudi-backed series, previously referred to as the Super Golf League, plans to dole out more than US$250 million in total purses. As of Monday, no golfers had publicly committed to the series, which PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has opposed.

Doral hosted a PGA Tour stop from 1962 until 2018. Former US president Donald Trump has owned the property since 2012, when his organisation purchased it out of bankruptcy.

"There could not be a more perfect location to host our biggest event of the year at a course with such a long history with professional golfers, and we are excited to add another piece of history to this famed destination," Greg Norman, chief executive officer and Commissioner of LIV Golf, said in a statement.

"I am very much looking forward to October to watch these teams go head-to-head to compete for the largest prize purse in tournament history. As we continue to select locations for our events in world-class cities, we knew Miami had to be included in the rota, and the Blue Monster is a fan favourite and a perfect place to end our inaugural season."

The dates and locations of the first seven tournaments were announced last month. Another Trump property, Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey, was previously announced.

Five of the eight events will be contested in the US and two will be in Asia.

The full schedule - June 9-11: Centurion Golf Club, London.

July 1-3: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Portland, Oregon.

July 29-31: Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, New Jersey.

Sept 2-4: The International, Boston.

Sept 16-18: Rich Harvest Farms, Chicago.

Oct 7-9: Stonehill Golf Club, Bangkok, Thailand.

Oct 14-16: Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Oct 28-30: Team Championship at Trump National Doral, Miami.

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