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Canadian Open canary in coal mine, going head-to-head with new Saudi-funded series

The Canadian Open returns to the PGA Tour schedule next month for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and while it goes up against the launch of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series tournament, organizers are mostly unconcerned.

Still, the June 9-12 Canadian Open in Toronto will serve as a canary in the coal mine given it will go head-to-head with an event that offers super-sized prize money. The first of LIV’s eight events will take place that same week at Centurion Golf Club outside of London.

Since the LIV Golf series was unveiled, golfers have had to choose sides while both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour warned it would suspend or fine those jumping to the breakaway circuit.

The PGA Tour on Tuesday followed through on its threat by rejecting requests from players — including six-times major champion Phil Mickelson, 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia and former world number one Lee Westwood — for clearance to play the LIV opener.

How many are willing to risk the PGA Tour’s wrath and how much impact it will have on the Canadian Open will be revealed on May 27 when the 48-player field for Centurion is expected to be revealed.

Looking to make a splashy return after a pandemic-extended layoff, the Canadian Open on Monday confirmed that six of the world’s top 20 golfers, including number one and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and defending champion Rory McIlroy, would be teeing it up at St. George’s Golf and Country Club.

“Gauging by the news at media day regarding ticket and hospitality sales, the excitement in Canada for the return of the RBC Canadian Open is clearly evident,” PGA Tour spokesperson Joel Schuchmann, told Reuters in an email.

“We anticipate the biggest and best version of Canada’s national championship in 2022, with the world’s best players primed to entertain and inspire spectators onsite as well as fans around the globe.”

‘Illegal monopoly’

With the PGA Tour having drawn a line in the sand, the Canadian Open could see a rush of interest from the reported 100 golfers who had requested releases.

Or this could be the opening salvo in a legal battle with LIV Golf Investments announcing it has secured $2 billion US in additional funding backing up plans to become a full breakaway super league from 2024.

“The Tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market,” LIV CEO Greg Norman said after the PGA Tour confirmed it would not grant any releases. “The Tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive.

During a media event on Wednesday at Centurion to promote the first event, Norman told reporters the LIV Series would reimburse players who are fined and has legal injunctions ready to go if they are sanctioned or banned by the PGA Tour.

“If you so choose to want, as an independent contractor, to come and play with us, we’ve got your back,” said Norman. “We’re going to back up the players, we’re going to be there for them, we’re prepared for that, whatever that is. We’re ready to go.”

Eye-popping purses

Certainly the money being offered by the upstart circuit is eye-popping.

Golfers at the Centurion will be playing for a purse of $25 million, almost triple the Canadian Open’s $8.7 million.

“That’s, I’m sure why they did not release the players,” Scheffler said on Wednesday ahead of this week’s PGA Tour event in McKinney, Texas. “Because if we have 15 guys go over there and play that hurts the RBC and the Canadian Open.”

With each day bringing reports of more players seeking releases, Canadian Open tournament director Bryan Crawford would not say on Monday if he had been in contact with the PGA Tour to step in and take action.

But the day after the Canadian Open’s media event the PGA Tour made clear there would be no exemptions.

“That’s not something within my control [players playing in the Centurion], my primary job is to deliver an amazing event here at the RBC Open,” Crawford told Reuters.

“Our event, our field kind of speaks for itself for the quality of what this event is.”

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