Former world No 1 Dustin Johnson and past major champion Sergio Garcia were listed among competitors for the opening LIV Golf Invitational Series event in a field released by the Saudi-backed league on Tuesday that did not include Phil Mickelson.
While six-time major champion Mickelson was not currently on the field list, he could still tee it up between 9 and 11 June at the Centurion Club outside London as six spots in the 48-player event remain open.
Among the other notables included are former world No 1s Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, as well as European Ryder Cup veteran Ian Poulter. The final six players will be announced at a later date, LIV Golf said.
World No 13 Johnson, a two-times major champion, is the highest-ranked player in a field that currently includes 26 of the top 150 golfers in the world.
“Free agency has finally come to golf,” said LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman. “This is an opportunity to start a movement that will change the course of history by bringing new and open competition to the sport we all love.
“The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future.”
Norman has come in for strong criticism for his association with LIV Golf, with critics slamming the wealthy series as a means of “sports washing” for Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Norman was also criticised by Amnesty International for “wrong and seriously misguided” comments about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi Arabian consulate in 2018 and the high number of executions carried out this year by the kingdom.
Mickelson has been linked to LIV Golf for months but has been on a self-imposed hiatus from the sport since February – even skipping his title defence at the PGA Championship – amid backlash over comments he made about the breakaway tour.
The 51-year-old Mickelson’s public image took a hit when the author of an unauthorised biography said the American golfer told him he was willing to look past Saudi Arabia’s human rights record to gain economic leverage over the PGA Tour.
Mickelson apologised and said: “It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”
Both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have recently declined all requests from members who had asked for releases to compete at Centurion, where $25m is up for grabs, including $4m for the winner.
It is unknown whether those competing in the lucrative breakaway circuit’s first event, which is being held opposite the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open – where the winner will get $1.57m from an $8.7m purse – will face punishment.
The PGA Tour and DP World Tour did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mickelson, who has 45 PGA Tour wins, has not played on the US-based circuit since January and last competed in early February at an Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia.
Johnson, who in February said he was “fully committed” to the PGA Tour, ultimately decided the opportunity was too good to pass up, his agent David Winkle told Golf Channel.
“Dustin’s been contemplating this for the past two years and decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it,” Winkle said. “He’s never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it’s given him but in the end felt this was too compelling to pass up.”