The new Saudi golf league arouses the interest of the players

The Greg Norman-led, Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, a rival to the PGA Tour, is preparing to announce a roster that includes several notable names, according to a new report in the Telegraph.

Despite intense public criticism of Phil Mickelson’s ties to the venture, Norman is pushing the venture forward and told the Telegraph he will formally announce “marquee names” who will join the tour in the coming weeks.

The Telegraph report names two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, longtime PGA Tour player Kevin Na and Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter as likely to join the series. (Poulter, Westwood, Na and Watson, all of whom are active on social media, have not publicly denied the report.)

For the players, LIV Golf offers a great temptation: money. The eight-event tour kicks off this summer at the Centurion Club in St Albans, England. Future events are planned for Portland, Boston, Chicago, Bangkok and Jeddah; other locations include Trump Bedminster in New Jersey.

The Centurion event is said to have a $25 million prize pool for a 48-player field, and other tournaments will have similar bounties. For comparison, last week’s Masters had a total purse of $15 million, the highest-ever purse for the event. Norman said he has sent out invites to 250 players but plans to host the event regardless of who is playing. Norman believes the lure for golf’s biggest names will be the chance to win big against a less talented field.

“Honestly, it doesn’t matter who’s playing, we’re going to host the event,” Norman told the Telegraph. “There is a first prize of $4 million. I hope a kid who is 350th in the world wins. It will change his life, the life of his family. And then a couple of our events will roll by and the top players will see someone win $6 million, $8 million and they’ll be like, ‘Enough is enough, I know week in and week out I can beat these guys with my hands tied back. ‘”

Again for comparison, Scottie Scheffler took home $2.7 million for winning the Masters.

Mickelson was linked to the LIV company until his comments about the tour’s Saudi backers were released. “You are scary [expletives] get involved,” Mickelson told veteran golf reporter Alan Shipnuck. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a terrible human rights record. They execute people there because they are gay. Knowing all this, why should I even consider it? Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works.”

The barrage of criticism that followed these remarks drove Mickelson into hiding; He hasn’t played at the Masters and hasn’t made any public comments in months. At the same time, several top names actively distanced themselves from the deal, including Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson. Tiger Woods professed loyalty to the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy, who was never involved with the project, called it “dead in the water”.

Norman acknowledged that the Mickelson controversy was a setback but maintained that the project is still moving forward. “We respected and let go of the Masters, but now our journey is finally bearing fruit – for the players, not for me,” he said. “Their rightful place to have what they want. So they’re still very, very, very interested. We signed players as opposed to the white noise you hear out there.”

The Centurion Club event is scheduled to take place in June, a week before the US Open.

Greg Norman’s burgeoning golf league is looking for big names. (Luke Walker / Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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