Westwood 'and many others' requesting release for Saudi-backed LIV Golf

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Lee Westwood confirmed he has requested to be released by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour in order to play in the inaugural event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational series.

Speculation around a breakaway association in golf started gathering a head of steam in 2019 but did not attain mainstream attention until last year, with former world number one Greg Norman appointed the CEO of LIV Golf in October.

LIV Golf is financed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and owns the Super Golf League (SGL) trademark.

While the idea of the SGL was referred to as "dead in the water" by Rory McIlroy in February after he, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm and several other high-profile players committed themselves to the PGA Tour, preparations for LIV Golf's series continued to press ahead.

No longer considered a "league", the series will consist of seven regular-season events and then a season-ending championship. A maximum of 48 players will make up 12 teams of four, with drafts set to determine the make-up of those groupings.

Regular events will play without a cut and a $20million (£16m) purse, plus an additional $5m (£4m) split between the best three teams, while the finale tournament is set to have €30m (£24m) up for grabs, plus $50m (£40m) in team prizes.

Westwood revealed in February he signed a non-disclosure agreement regarding the competition and on Wednesday confirmed he has asked the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to allow him to compete – starting with next month's inaugural event at Centurion Club in London – despite previous threats to blacklist so-called rebels.

"I've asked for a release from the PGA Tour and European Tour for the Centurion like many others have," Westwood told reporters at The Belfry ahead of the British Masters.

"I've asked for releases for tournaments for as long as I've been on tour. It's not the first release I've asked for. I've asked for many. Not heard anything back yet. Ball is in the European Tour's court and the PGA Tour's court for that matter."

Lee Westwood does not see the problem with the SGL proposals
Lee Westwood does not see the problem with the SGL proposals

Quizzed on the controversy around the event, Westwood continued: "This is my job. I do this for money. It's not the only reason, but if anybody comes along and gives any of us a chance at a pay rise, then you have to seriously consider it.

"It's being portrayed as an 'us and them', whereas the people from LIV Golf, all the reports I've seen, have said that they want to stand side-by-side.

"They are not going up against any of the really massive tournaments. They want everybody to be able to play, have options. They are not forcing anybody's hand, so I believe."

One of the main criticisms of the LIV Golf series relates to its financial backing by the PIF of Saudi Arabia, a country routinely decried for its poor human rights record.

Saudi Arabia's increasing investment in major sporting events is, according to Amnesty International, an example of "sportswashing" – using sport to improve a tarnished reputation.

While other sports have also received significant flak for Saudi involvement, Westwood thinks golf is being unfairly targeted.

He told Sky Sports: "We've played European Tour in Saudi Arabia and I've had releases from the PGA Tour to say I can play in Saudi Arabia, so it has been no problem to them in previous years.

"Formula One raced there. Newcastle United are owned partly by people from Saudi Arabia. There has been boxing there and I think there has been snooker and darts there as well.

"Golf's not the first sport to have links with Saudi Arabia, but it seems to be coming under more scrutiny than anyone else. Whether you think that's right or not is the individual's opinion.

"I think Saudi Arabia obviously know they've got issues. I think lots of countries around the world have got issues and I think they're trying to improve. They're trying to do it through sport, which a lot of places, a lot of countries do.

"I think they're doing it a lot quicker than some countries have tried to do it and that maybe worries or scares people. People don't like change do they, they like continuity and things to stay the same."

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