PGA Tour makes 'sportswashing' accusation in LIV Golf counterclaim

The PGA Tour has accused the LIV Golf Invitational Series of making "astronomical" offers to players in a bid to "sportswash" Saudi Arabia's global image in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

The controversial LIV series – which counts the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau among its ranks – launched an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last month.

LIV accused the PGA of operating as a monopoly and alleged the Tour's decision to issue suspensions to players who joined the breakaway circuit was improper.

Eleven LIV golfers were originally named as plaintiffs in that claim, although eight – including Mickelson – have since withdrawn.

The PGA Tour has now hit back with legal action of its own, alleging: "A key component of LIV's strategy has been to intentionally induce Tour members to breach their Tour agreements and play in LIV events while seeking to maintain their Tour memberships and play in marquee Tour events, so LIV can free ride off the Tour and its platform."

The PGA's counterclaim goes on to accuse LIV of offering players "astronomical sums of money" in an attempt "to use the LIV Players and the game of golf to sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities."

In a widely publicised statement, LIV responded by saying: "The Tour has made these counterclaims in a transparent effort to divert attention from their anti-competitive conduct.

"We remain confident that the courts and the justice system will right these wrongs."

FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy – who has been a staunch critic of the LIV series – declared golf was "ripping itself apart" earlier on Thursday, as the bitter divide between the two circuits shows no signs of healing.

One day earlier, McIlroy called on LIV players to do more to foster a sense of reconciliation between the tours, declaring: "The ball is in their court".