LIV-PGA fracas highlighted eventful 2022

Saudi-backed circuit lured top players, while US Tour kept crying foul

REUTERS December 23, 2022


Once dismissed by many as a joke, the launch of LIV Golf divided the sport in 2022 as the Saudi-backed circuit lured top players from the PGA Tour with huge paydays while the two sides entered an ongoing legal battle.

And though Tiger Woods's return to competition after a near-fatal car crash in February 2021 grabbed plenty of attention, LIV Golf proved the defining story of the year as it upended the professional golf landscape.

In February, current world number one Rory McIlroy said the proposed LIV Golf circuit was "dead in the water" after many high-profile players pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour.

But LIV Golf has since seen its stable of golfers grow more impressively than many expected and counts majors winners Cameron Smith, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau among its recruits.

Critics say LIV Golf, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, amounts to "sportswashing" by a nation trying to improve its reputation in the face of criticism over its human rights record.

McIlroy, who has become the PGA Tour's unofficial spokesperson on all things LIV Golf, has said the sport is "ripping itself apart" and the damage may be "irreparable" without a truce.

Moments after the first tee shots were struck in LIV Golf's inaugural event in June the PGA Tour suspended its members who were in the field and said anyone else who makes the jump would face the same fate.

Along the way, LIV Golf joined a handful of its players in an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, which then filed a counter-claim saying golfers knew they had no unilateral right to defect and that breaching contracts would result in bans.

Faced with the LIV Golf threat, the PGA Tour announced new measures intended to make the US-based circuit more lucrative for top players.

LIV Golf, meanwhile, is awaiting a decision on whether its circuit will receive world ranking points - which play a key role in deciding entry into the four majors - and if things go their way PGA Tour players may start lining up to join.

Tiger Returns

Woods provided some distraction from the LIV Golf noise as he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and returned to action at the Masters in April, 14 months after a car crash that nearly resulted in doctors amputating his right leg.

The 15-times major winner withdrew from the PGA Championship after the third round, during which his surgically-repaired leg appeared to be causing him significant discomfort, skipped the US Open and missed the cut at the British Open.

No PGA Tour golfer had as solid a year as Scottie Scheffler, whose Masters triumph gave him four wins in the span of six starts and helped earn him PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.

At the PGA Championship, Justin Thomas tied the largest comeback in the tournament's history when he erased a seven-stroke deficit in the final round to beat Will Zalatoris in a playoff for his second major title.

In the year's third major, Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick delivered a shot for the ages when he found the green from a fairway bunker on the last hole at the US Open where he held off a late charge from Zalatoris and Scheffler.

At the British Open, Australian Smith carded a stunning final-round 64 to surge past McIlroy and then reacted angrily during his victory news conference when asked if he was joining LIV Golf, a move that was officially announced six weeks later.

When it came to prize money, former world number one Johnson walked away with the most riches as he banked more than $35 million in eight LIV Golf events spread across five months.

Johnson's financial windfall was bolstered by the staggering $18 million he earned for clinching the season-long individual title and he had fun with the media when asked whether his move to LIV Golf met or exceeded his expectations.

"I really regret my decision to come here," Johnson said sarcastically. "It's just so terrible. I'm sitting there last night thinking about it, it was really bothering me a lot. Yeah, just can't get over it."


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