Golf: Phil Mickelson to end hiatus and play inaugural LIV Golf event

Phil Mickelson had been linked to LIV Golf for months but began a self-imposed hiatus from the sport in February. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Embattled golfer Phil Mickelson will return to competition this week as the six-time Major champion has been added to the field for the opening LIV Golf Invitational Series event outside London, the Saudi-backed league said on Monday (June 6).

The American had been linked to LIV Golf for months but began a self-imposed hiatus from the sport in February - even skipping his title defence at the PGA Championship - amid backlash over comments he made about the breakaway tour.

"I am ready to come back to play the game I love but after 32 years, this new path is a fresh start, one that is exciting for me at this stage of my career and is clearly transformative, not just for myself, but ideally for the game and my peers," he said in a statement posted on social media.

The 51-year-old's public image took a hit when the author of an unauthorised biography on Mickelson released excerpts from the book in which the American golfer called the Saudis "scary" but said he was willing to look past their human rights records to gain leverage with the PGA Tour.

Mickelson, who has lost several sponsors since his comments surfaced, apologised again on Monday to those he offended, said he has spent time in therapy and also intends to play in golf's four Majors, if permitted.

"I fully realise and respect some may disagree with this decision and have strong opinions and I empathise with that,"said Mickelson, who has lost a number of sponsors since his controversial comments surfaced.

"I have a renewed spirit and excitement for the game. I am incredibly grateful for the support of my fans, partners, friends, and peers and I hope in time, those sentiments, relationships, and support continue."

Golf's next Major is the June 16-19 US Open outside Boston and while Mickelson is an exempt player and filed an entry to compete, the Unites States Golf Association reserves the right to review any player's situation on a case-by-case basis.

Major drawcard

Among the other golfers already confirmed for the 48-player LIV event being held June 9-11 at Centurion Club are former world No.1s Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer as well as 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

The affable Mickelson, however, has long been one of the biggest drawcards in the game, capable of driving up television ratings almost single-handedly when in contention for one of golf's bigger events, and his presence at Centurion could offer a boost to the first of eight LIV Golf events this year.

Both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have recently declined all requests from members who had asked for releases to compete at Centurion, where US$25 million (S$34.44 million) is up for grabs, including US$4 million for the winner.

It is unknown whether those competing in the lucrative breakaway circuit's first event, which is being held opposite the PGA Tour's Canadian Open - where the winner will get US$1.57 million from an US$8.7 million purse - will face punishment.

Mickelson, a 45-time winner on the PGA Tour, has not played on the US-based circuit since January and last competed in early February at an Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia.

"Phil Mickelson is unequivocally one of the greatest golfers of this generation," LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman said in a news release. "His contributions to the sport and connection to fans around the globe cannot be overstated and we are grateful to have him."

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