Johnson headlines inaugural LIV Golf event, Mickelson not listed

  • Garcia and Westwood also included in the 48-man field
  • Mickelson could still make it as six spots still open
  • PGA Tour's Canadian Open 'disappointed' with Johnson's decision

May 31 (Reuters) - Former world number one 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 June 9-11 at the Centurion Club outside London as six spots in the 48-player event remain open.

Among the other notables included are former world number ones 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 number 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."

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.

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 $25 million is up for grabs, including $4 million 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 $1.57 million from an $8.7 million purse -- will face punishment.

Organisers of the Canadian Open said they were disappointed with Johnson, who was expected to play in Toronto and is an ambassador for RBC, the title sponsors of the tournament.

"Together with our partners at RBC, we are disappointed to learn at this late stage that Dustin Johnson has made the decision to play the LIV Golf event," they said in a statement.

"As a past RBC Canadian Open champion, Canadian golf fans were looking forward to DJ's return this year."

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 U.S.-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."

Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles and Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill and Stephen Coates

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.