Exclusive: Ten Englishmen among 50 pros seeking release to play in first Saudi breakaway event

·4 min read
Lee Westwood playing golf - Exclusive: Ten Englishmen among 50-plus pros wishing to play in the first Saudi breakaway event - GETTY IMAGES
Lee Westwood playing golf - Exclusive: Ten Englishmen among 50-plus pros wishing to play in the first Saudi breakaway event - GETTY IMAGES

Ten Englishmen are among the 50-plus pros who sought releases from the DP World Tour to play in the first $25million Saudi breakaway event taking place in four weeks’ time in Hertfordshire. But still they wait to see if the circuit will grant clearances.

Telegraph Sport reported on Wednesday that the DP World Tour - formerly the European Tour - has decided to follow the lead of the PGA Tour and deny waivers for the tournament at the Centurion Club and insiders confirmed that legal issues mean the verdict from Wentworth HQ will not come until early next week.

The Tour declined to comment but, in truth, the wannabe rebels must be resigned to being turned down and should be focusing on how to react and whether to press ahead and compete for the $4m first prize regardless.

It is understood that those who have made it into 48-man field for the opener of the $255m LIV Golf Invitational Series - in which, even the player finishing last will receive $120,000 - have been informed and also given assurances that they will be backed if they do defy the verdict of Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour chief executive.

Greg Norman, the LIV chief executive, confirmed earlier this week that this would involve either paying their fines or arguing their cases in court, with injunctions immediately launched, if they are hit with bans.

However, despite Norman’s bullishness, there obviously remains doubts if the LIV legal team will be successful and concerns that they may be casting themselves into the wilderness, albeit with lucrative compensation.

It is believed that Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Richard Bland are probably going to go against the wishes of their home tour and play in St Albans, but the others, should they get a place in the 54-holer, remain undecided.

These comprise Laurie Canter (the world No 107), Sam Horsfield (110), Jordan Smith (118), David Horsey (262), Robert Rock (422), Ross McGowan (436) and Oliver Fisher (922).

Canter, who makes his first start in an American major next week at the USPGA, is the only one of this group not to have won a Tour title. They are a disparate bunch, ranging from 25-year-old Horsfield to 49-year-old Westwood. It is understood that no Scottish members of the Tour applied for a release, and neither did any Welshmen or French.

Graeme McDowell did submit his forms and it is believed the Northern Irishman is weighing up his options.

Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland, reacts after missing a putt on the 18th green during the second round of the PGA Zurich Classic golf tournament, Friday, April 22, 2022, at TPC Louisiana in Avondale - AP
Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland, reacts after missing a putt on the 18th green during the second round of the PGA Zurich Classic golf tournament, Friday, April 22, 2022, at TPC Louisiana in Avondale - AP

Like Westwood and Poulter, the 2010 US Open champion might be giving up his chances of further involvement in the Ryder Cup - either as a player, assistant captain or captain - but as a 42-year-old down in 371st in the rankings, without a top 10 in more than a year, this father-of-two could figure it prudent to accept the riches on offer.

It is thought that he has the opportunity to play in all eight events of this year’s series, meaning that the very least he could collect, if he finished last in each tournament, would be $1.19m.

Yet, LIV could also insist on McDowell making four Asian Tour starts, including the $2m event at Slaley Hall, Northumberland in three weeks’ time. Seven DP World Tour members have apparently sought releases for that tournament.

In his by now infamous press conference at the Centurion earlier this week - in which the Australian replied “we’ve all made mistakes” when quizzed about the State-approved 2018 murder of journalist of Jamal Khashoggi - Norman stated that LIV would start to reveal confirmed starters for Centurion next week.

When pressed if LIV would do this despite it being the second major of the year, he was nonplussed. “It’'s just announcing a few players,” Norman replied. “It's not going to overshadow the PGA Championship.”

And if one of the players named is at Tulsa field, would he come under the media spotlight when he is trying to win a major? “We're not worried about that,” he said.

LIV have been putting out Norman-lit fires all week and a little later Atul Khosla, LIV’s chief operating officer, tried to row back on this issue. “We want to be right and do fair for the players, so we might not put the names out next week, but the week after,” he said.

The final field is due to be unveiled on May 27, a week on Friday.