SYDNEY (Reuters) – After falling short in their bid to gatecrash the Masters, the stars of LIV Golf break fresh ground in Adelaide this weekend when they take the rebel tour to Australia for the first time.
Eighteen of the circuit’s 48 players teed it up at Augusta two weeks ago with Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson coming closest to landing a blow for the Saudi-backed LIV circuit when they shared second place behind PGA Tour loyalist Jon Rahm.
The American duo, winners of 10 majors between them, will again be in competition at The Grange starting on Friday with Koepka the skipper of “Smash” and Mickelson leading “Hyflyers” in the hybrid individual-team competition.
The fourth of the 14 events on the schedule in the second season of LIV Golf was all but guaranteed a warm reception Down Under, despite concerns in some quarters that its Saudi backers are engaged in “sportswashing”.
Australian golf fans have rarely had the chance to see more than one big-name foreign player each year over the last decade and the COVID pandemic cut off even that paltry supply.
Ground passes have sold out for all three days of the 54-hole tournament, with the packed galleries likely to be giving enthusiastic backing to the “Ripper” team captained by Australia’s most recent major champion, Cameron Smith.
“Obviously we’re going there to win,” said the 29-year-old world number six, who defected to LIV for a reported $140 million after his British Open triumph last year.
“It’ll be awesome if we could be up there at the end of the week and really give it a show.”
Former world number one and twice major champion Martin Kaymer will make his return after six months on the sidelines recovering from a wrist injury as captain of “Cleeks”.
Having been pointedly excluded from Augusta, LIV Golf Commissioner Greg Norman has been ubiquitous in the media in his homeland this week promoting his product.
The former world number one promised new high-profile recruits to replace some of the stragglers at the bottom end of the LIV rankings, offered the potential prospect of a women’s series and aimed a couple of swipes at the PGA Tour.
Blaming the established tour for triggering hostilities by banning players who joined LIV, the Australian said he was confident some sort of mutual accommodation was inevitable in the long term.
“It’s not going to stay this way forever, because we’re not going anywhere,” Norman told News Ltd.
“So somewhere down the line in some way, shape or form, the two parties have got to come to the table.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing Peter Rutherford)