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Golf war as PGA Tour bans Norman's players

3 minute read

The PGA Tour has declared a ban on all golfers who have teed off in Greg Norman's inaugural breakaway LIV Invitational Series event in England.

Open warfare has been declared in world golf as the PGA Tour announced a ban on all players who have teed off in the glitzy launch of Greg Norman's Saudi-backed LIV Invitational Series.

Within half-an-hour of the inaugural and novel LIV event starting amid great fanfare in England on Thursday, the Tour announced Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and 15 other PGA Tour members playing in the St Albans event were suspended.

One of the banned players is 42-year-old Matt Jones, a two-time PGA Tour winner and the top-ranked of the six Australians in the LIV field at No.69 in the world.

"It's not a shock, it's not a surprise," Jones said after AAP broke the news to him after his round.

"I don't think it's good for anyone, it's not good for golf, not good for the PGA Tour and it's not good for us as independent contractors to be told where to play and when to play."

The most lucrative golf tournament in history had got under way at the plush Centurion Club amid a trumpet fanfare, as Australian great Norman, LIV's CEO, emerged to declare: "I'm proud and so happy we've brought free agency to the game of golf."

Yet it was the fly-past of vintage fighter planes overhead that felt most fitting as news came through within 30 minutes that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan had fired off a memo to all members informing them that any participants were being suspended.

The banned players include Major winners Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, who'd already informed the PGA Tour of their resignation.

In response, LIV Golf then hit back just as swiftly, saying the ban was "vindictive and deepens the divide between the Tour and its members."

Monahan said players would be prohibited from playing on all features of the PGA Tour, including the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

The breakaway golfers will also be removed from the FedEx Cup rankings and won't be eligible for the FedEx Cup or Presidents Cup.

"These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons. But they can't demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platforms as you," Monahan's memo read.

"That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners."

Mickelson, who wants to retain his lifetime membership of the PGA Tour, refused to discuss the suspension after his round.

The off-course dramas quite overshadowed the golf itself as the short-form three-day, 54-hole event, featuring an individual event alongside a novel team competition, teed off to an enthusiastic on-course reception.

As the 48-man field set off to compete for unprecedented $US25 million ($A35 million) riches, former Masters champ Johnson said at the first tee before the 'shotgun' start: "It's a new chapter for the game ... I can't wait to get started."

The 16 three-player groups were taken to their tees in a fleet of London black taxis, with good-sized galleries evidently unfazed by all the controversy over whether the $US255 million ($A358 million) eight-tournament series was just an exercise in Saudi Arabian 'sportswashing'.

The first round leader was South African 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, who fired a five-under par 65 to put himself in pole position for the record $US4 million ($A5.6 million) winner's cheque.

The six-strong Australian challenge got off to a poor start, with European Tour veteran Wade Ormsby leading the way in joint-16th place after a one-over 71.

If he maintains that position, though, he still stands to win $US240,000 ($A337,000) on Saturday.

Jed Morgan and Kevin Yuan went round in 73 and were lying joint 24th, while Jones shot 74 (joint-34th), Travis Smyth 75 (joint-38th) and Blake Windred (78, tied-46th).

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