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The Canadian Open is caught in the golf war

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Even though the second major men’s tournament of the year, the PGA Championship, arrives next week, the No. 1 story in the sport remains a start-up’s attempt to disrupt the PGA Tour. Backed by essentially unlimited funds from the Saudi government and led by Australian golfing great Greg Norman, the LIV Golf Invitational Series is trying to lure players away from the PGA Tour with staggering scholarships.

US$25 million are up for grabs at each LIV regular season tournament, including $4 million for the winner, both topping prize money records on the set tour. Other draws include a shorter 54-hole format and smaller 48-man courses with no cuts, so everyone who shows up gets paid handsomely.

But LIV’s recruiting efforts took a hit when Phil Mickelson said the quiet part out loud, telling golf writer Alan Shipnuck that basically he was willing to ignore Arabia’s horrendous record. Saudi Arabia Human Rights Award for this “unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour operates.” (Safe to assume that the Silver Mountains also attract Phil.)

The backlash from Lefty’s comments seemed to scare anyone about to jump ship, leaving LIV with Mickelson and other half-washed guys like Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood as his biggest names. Norman also did his league a disservice on Wednesday when he responded to a question about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s alleged involvement in the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by saying “Listen, we’ve all made mistakes…”

Now let’s move on to the Canadian angle. This week, the PGA Tour rejected release requests submitted by golfers who wish to participate in the inaugural LIV event from June 9-11 in London. The tour said this conflicts with the Canadian Open, which takes place the same week at St. George’s in Toronto. That means anyone who goes ahead and plays in the LIV opener could face Tour discipline – perhaps as severe as a lifetime ban.

The PGA Tour battle against LIV could raise the profile of the Canadian Open. All eyes will be on him to see who’s showing up in Toronto, who’s heading to London (where the purse will be triple what’s offered at the Canadian Open) and who’s missing all week.

Perhaps the Tour will even implore some of its stars who might not have made the trip to Canada to play there in a challenge against the upstart league. World No. 1 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler has already committed to play, as has No. 7 Rory McIlroy – the Saudi-backed league’s most vocal critic. Also in attendance are No. 4 Cameron Smith and No. 11 Dustin Johnson, the former Masters and US Open champion who is Wayne Gretzky’s son-in-law.

Either way, Canada’s men’s national championship will be in the spotlight this year as it probably hasn’t been since Tiger Woods’ legendary 2000 sandblast at Glen Abbey. Learn more about the Canadian Open’s role in escalating the golf war here.

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