Bay Area

Mickelson, Johnson debut in LIV Golf amid PGA Tour suspensions

Bay Area
Phil Mickelson

For Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and other marquee golfers, life beyond the PGA Tour officially has begun.

The inaugural tournament in the LIV Golf Invitational Series got underway Thursday, with suspensions for the 17 PGA Tour members competing in the event handed down shortly after the opening tee shot in the Saudi-backed rival league.

One of those 17, Charl Schwartzel, sits atop the 48-man leaderboard after the first of three rounds, shooting 5-under at Centurion Club outside of London. 

Mickelson and Johnson both are four shots off the lead after shooting 1-under.

The event marked a return to competitive golf for Mickelson, who was competing in his first tournament since early February. Following controversial comments regarding the PGA Tour and Saudi league that led to a loss of sponsorships, Mickelson wore a hat featuring his own logo and a vest with the Augusta National Golf Club logo. 

He was grouped with Johnson, one of 10 golfers competing in the tournament after resigning their PGA Tour membership.

Not long after Johnson and Mickelson opened the event with their tee shots on the first hole, a memo was sent to PGA Tour members by commissioner Jay Monahan saying the 17 members participating in the event had been suspended.

 

"These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons," Monahan wrote. "But they can't expect the same PGA TOUR membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platforms as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners. You have made a different choice, which is to abide by the Tournament Regulations you agreed to when you accomplished the dream of earning a PGA TOUR card and - more importantly - to compete as part of the preeminent organization in the world of professional golf.

"I am certain our fans and partners - who are surely tired of all this talk of money, money and more money - will continue to be entertained and compelled by the world-class competition you display each and every week, where there are true consequences for every shot you take and your rightful place in history whenever you reach that elusive winner's circle."

LIV Golf released a statement during the tournament in response.

"Today's announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the Tour and its members," LIV Golf said. "It's troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing. This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond."

The event was broadcasted on the LIV Golf website, as well as on YouTube and Facebook, featuring a real-time scoreboard along the left side of the screen...and microphones in the cups on each green. With the event's shotgun format, where all players start at the same time on different holes, there were few lulls in the broadcast action with rapid-fire cuts from shot-to-shot.

South African golfer Hennie Du Plessis finished the round in second after shooting 4-under. Tied for third at 3-under are Zimbabwean golfer Scott Vincent and Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai, a 23-year-old ranked No. 133 in the world. 

In addition to the individual competition with a $20 million purse, including $4 million for first place, the 48-man field is also divided into 12 four-man teams, complete with team names and logos. The teams are competing for a $5 million purse, with the first-place group receiving $3 million. The team format combines the two best scores on each team for the first two rounds and the three best scores from the third round.

Stinger GC, which features Schwartzel, du Plessis, team captain Louis Oosthuizen, and the now-former PGA Tour member Branden Grace, are atop the leaderboard after the first round at 9-under. Tied for second place are the Hyflyers (Mickelson, Justin Harding, TK Chantananuwat, Chase Koepka) and the Crushers GC (Peter Uihlein, Richard Bland, Phachara Khongwatmai, Travis Smyth).

 

The second round begins Friday at 9 a.m. ET.