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PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Greg Norman admitted he had to pivot in response to the PGA Tour and its strong pushback against what is now being called the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

The two-time major champion and World Golf Hall of Famer saw the potential to have the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and several others join his rival league vanish as quickly as his six-shot lead at Augusta National on the final day all those years ago to Nick Faldo. Mickelson’s comments and subsequent rebuke seemingly were the final blow.

In the aftermath of that Masters defeat in 1996, Norman proved his resiliency and admirably faced the fallout. This is more complicated. And it has not come without numerous shots to his integrity and his legacy. Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments and the commissioner of the new league. Both are being funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

Working for an on behalf of such a controversial regime has come with numerous challenges, many of which will never subside.

But Norman has declared “we will not give up’’ and that “this is just the start, not the end.’’

And with that, amid all signs pointing to the league’s demise, not only did Norman say last week that the new circuit will persevere, but it announced eight events for 2022, one less than three months away in early June. The first seven will have $25 million purses, with $20 million for the individual portion of the tournaments. The season-ending event will offer $30 million.

Several players at the Valspar Championship took notice.

“After what happened to Phil, I was pretty sure that league was dead,’’ Matt Kuchar said of the severe backlash Mickelson received. “I couldn’t really see who was going to follow suit with what happened to Phil. My reservation a few months ago was if they got started with a field of guys who weren’t really going to make a proper tour, but if they actually pulled off two or three events that went smoothly and a guy actually was cashing a $4 million check at the end of the week, I could see there being defectors for sure.

“At first, I think a lot of people thought they won’t get started or if they do get started it’ll be a failure. Now I think the fear is if they do get started and if it does go smoothly, I think they’ll probably get some defectors.’’

Pat Perez was more blunt.

“There’s going to be the wrong guy winning $4 million and some of these guys out here will go what the f--- is happening?’’ Perez said. “Who was that guy? And what if he wins again? Now he’s made $8 million in two events and most of the top guys out here aren’t even halfway there. They have to beat everybody and those guys over there don’t have to beat anybody, right? It’s going to be interesting.’’

The league has so far been set up so that players do not have join it, as was the original plan. For now, the events have been scheduled – the first is outside of London, June 9-11 – so that players can elect to play as few as one or as many as eight.

Norman acknowledged he was in the process of sending more than 250 invitations to players around the world. Members of the PGA Tour would have to seek a release in order to play, and while that might be possible for an overseas event, it has never been allowed for domestic tournaments.

LIV Golf has tournaments scheduled the same weeks in the U.S. as the John Deere Classic and the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

“It’s definitely a lot of money and it’ll be interesting if the top players had not all come out and pledged their allegiance to the Tour,’’ Gary Woodland said. “I don’t see any of the top guys going right now. (PGA Tour commissioner) Jay (Monahan) has been pretty firm on what he said and the players got behind him. They’ve continued to crank up the money out here which is a good thing.’’

Monahan threatened bans for players who joined the league, but what if someone wanted to play just one or two events? What if a release is not granted but the player competes anyway? Is he fined? Is he suspended?

“If I didn’t have a full card, and I was not going to get exemptions and was not going to do anything until I was 50, why not?’’ Perez said. “I’ll take my chances. What does last place get, $120,000? You have to play pretty well out here to make 120 grand." [Editor's note: solo 17th at Valspar would have paid $126,750.]

We are unlikely to know for some time who might enter the first tournament at the Centurion Club. LIV Golf will keep private any PGA Tour members that sign up. And there is a 30-day process for applying for a release and getting an answer.

What about Korn Ferry Tour players? They are not technically members of the PGA Tour, and life-changing money is at stake. There are Challenge Tour players in Europe, and professionals from all around the world.

Will they enter? Will LIV Golf fill the field with them?

“I think it’s highly unlikely for people not to do it with that amount of money,’’ Webb Simpson said. “But what I think they have to look at long term is what does that mean for their brand, right? What do they stand for in life? I’m not going to point a finger at anybody, but I also know there’s an awful lot of things that have been said about that group. I know a lot of companies are doing business there (in Saudi Arabia) for a reason. So who knows?

“Some guys are not looking at the source of the money. They are looking at the opportunity. And in this day and age, you can make an argument for that. But there’s a lot of unknowns. I feel like there is security on the PGA Tour, it’s going to be here for a long time. So we’ll see.’’

No Phil at Augusta?

What once seemed unfathomable is now becoming more likely: Phil Mickelson skipping the Masters. The three-time champion and reigning PGA Championship winner is on an extended “leave’’ following his harsh comments about the PGA Tour in relation to the LIV Golf Invitational Series and his well-chronicled flirtations with the new circuit.

Mickelson is not in the field for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, and it would have been a logical place to return if he wanted to prep for the Masters. Mickelson has not played since a tie for 18th finish at the Saudi International tournament on Feb. 6.

That’s a long time to go without competition and the match play event would have provided at least three days of it. There is always the possibility that Mickelson has been suspended by the PGA Tour – which won’t comment on such discipline – which means he can’t compete in the tournament nor next week’s Valero Texas Open, another place he could attempt to prep for the year’s first major.

Without any updates, it leads to all kinds of speculation. A PGA Tour suspension would not be in play at the Masters, but did Augusta National officials request he not come? Did they disinvite him? Or is more going on behind the scenes that is precluding Mickelson from playing?

A start at Augusta National would be his 30th in the Masters. Mickelson has not missed the tournament since 1994, when he withdrew due to a leg injury suffered while skiing.

Fore! Things

1. Missed in the fine print: the LIV Golf Invitational Series said its fields will be a “maximum’’ of 48 players. That means if only 20 sign up to play, the entire $25 million ($5 million for the team portion) will be paid out to that small gathering. First prize is $4 million.

2. Also overlooked: the dates of the first tournament are June 9-11, Thursday-Saturday. That means, in theory, a player who is in the U.S. Open could leave London on Sunday and be in Boston in plenty of time to prepare.

3. Both Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland had the opportunity to move to No. 1 in the world ahead of Jon Rahm with a victory or – in Morikawa’s case – variations of finished solo or tied second. Neither player came close. Morikawa tied for 68th at the Valspar Championship after a 74-73 weekend. Hovland fared better but was well back headed into the final round and tied for 33rd.

4. Sam Burns’ victory at the Valspar Championship knocked Dustin Johnson out of the top 10 in the world for the first time since 2015. Burns is now 10th, with Johnson 11th.

Henrik in Charge

After considerable consternation and a longer-than-usual evaluation period, Henrik Stenson last week was named Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for 2023. The appointment would have typically been announced in January, but circumstances this time have been far less than ideal, with the threat of some players jumping to the rival LIV Golf league, thus putting their candidacies in peril. Stenson, 45, was said to be among those seriously considering an offer. The fact that he was named captain suggests he has decided to stick with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour (formerly European Tour).

Lee Westwood appeared to be the early frontrunner, but last fall took his name out of consideration because he wanted to try and make the team. Luke Donald became a popular choice with players such as Stenson and Ian Poulter possibly taking themselves out because of the LIV Golf involvement.

Donald was a vice captain at the last two Ryder Cups and played on four European teams. There is a chance he could be a vice captain again next year.

“Hopefully, that’s not my chance gone,’’ he told Golfweek.

The problem for Donald going forward is he faces considerable competition among a slew of worthy candidates: Westwood, Poulter, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia.

Meanwhile, Stenson promises to be quite entertaining on the way to Rome, where he will attempt to keep the U.S. losing streak overseas going past 30 years while helping the Europeans bounce back from a 19-9 defeat at Whistling Straits.

“We've done a big debrief with players, caddies and everyone around, and I think that will help us for sure, and I'm going to get the strongest team possible assembled and we'll be ready for the competition,’’ Stenson said.

While the U.S. qualification process has already begun – the Players, this week’s WGC event, the WGC event in China and the four majors will count this year – Stenson said Europe has “time’’ to decide how it wants to proceed. Zach Johnson will have six at-large picks for the American team but Stenson said he will wait to decide how many picks he has as well as the qualification criteria.

Masters Countdown

The Masters is 17 days away, and Augusta National lists the field as 88 players, which will grow with a few additions off the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking next week. The 88 includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Harris English, all of whose status is unclear. It does not include past champion Ian Woosnam, who is listed among past champions not competing.

This week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship and next week’s Valero Texas Open are the last opportunities to earn an invitation via a PGA Tour victory.

The top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking as of March 28 will also qualify, with Thomas Pieters, Russell Henley, Harold Varner III, Cameron Young, Seamus Power and Cameron Tringale all on the cusp of invites. Pieters, Henley and Varner are safe. The Masters begins on April 7.

Social Matters

The opening day of the NCAA Tournament also happened to be the first round of the Valspar Championship, where Charl Schwartzel holed – dunked – his second shot for an eagle at the par-14 16th.

Of course, Schwartzel’s eagle followed this on the previous hole.

An aerial view of Augusta National from last Friday, less than three weeks prior to the first round of the Masters. That is the 11th green.

The winning putt from Sam Burns on the second playoff hole.

Next Up

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship at Austin Country Club has gone to the 69th player via the Official World Ranking (following the Players Championship) to make up the 64-player field. Those who qualified and are not playing are Cam Smith, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Hideki Matsuyama and Harris English. Matsuyama and English are dealing with injuries.

The tournament is using the round-robin format that begins Wednesday with 16 groups of four players, all of whom play the other three in the group through Friday. The top player in each group advances to the final 16 and the knockout stage which begins Saturday morning.