The PGA Tour battle with LIV Golf reaches the Department of Justice

A tour spokeswoman confirmed Monday that the conflict upending the game of professional men’s golf has spread to a new location as the Department of Justice is investigating the PGA Tour for anti-competitive behavior in its dealings with the separate LIV Golf series.

The PGA Tour has suspended players who have defied tour regulations and participated in the last two LIV Golf events without PGA Tour permission. Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, criticized the tour’s position as an “illegal monopoly”.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has repeatedly responded that his organization’s policies will face legal review, including if a lawsuit is filed by a suspended member of the PGA Tour, which is to be expected. The PGA Tour cited a 1994 federal investigation examining similar disciplinary actions through the tour against golfers who play in a non-PGA event without the commissioner’s permission. The tour received no federal penalties at the time.

“We went through this in 1994, and we’re confident of a similar outcome,” PGA Tour Executive Vice President Laura Neale wrote in an email on Monday. “This was not unexpected,” Neil said of the Justice Department’s investigation.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the longstanding policy of neither confirming nor denying ongoing investigation reports.

The investigation into the PGA Tour was first reported in the Wall Street Journal. LIV Golf representatives did not respond to an email requesting comment.

The LIV golf course, which has hosted two of the eight events planned this year, has hosted many high profile players from the PGA Tour with huge upfront payments and attendance fees. Six-time winner Phil Mickelson reportedly received $200 million.

The LIV Tournaments offered total prize money of up to $20 million, with the last-place winner guaranteed $120,000. With a separate pool of money for the team competition, some golfers earned close to a million dollars in a single event after finishing in the lower third of the field. The Rebel circuit has also attracted PGA Tour players by offering a limited schedule, though the LIV Golf schedule plans to expand to 14 championships next year, roughly the same number that a regular PGA Tour golfer currently plays in a Tour season.

However, well-known names such as Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen have left the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf Series. The global rankings of nearly all players in that group have been in decline in recent seasons. Ranking points, which are essential for players to be invited to the four major golf tournaments, are not available in LIV Golf events.

Mickelson slipped from 38th in the men’s world rankings to 92nd. Garcia moved from 45th to 68th. DeChambeau started the year at 9th and is now 33rd, and Johnson, who finished 8th this year, is now 18th.

Mickelson, 52, came under fire and lost several longtime sponsors this year when he admitted he supports the LIV Golf Series because he saw it as a “lifetime opportunity” to cash in on the PGA Tour for extended payouts to players. However, in LIV competitions, he seemed uncomfortable on the golf course.

He has scored better than 75 only once in two tournaments, finishing 10 on a tie in each event.

Last week, in a British court, three LIV-aligned golfers appealed their suspension from a Scottish golf tournament and won temporary residence permitting them to compete in the event. The commissioner of the DP World Tour, formerly European Tour, who issued the suspensions against the LIV golfers – and fined them nearly $120,000 each – has vowed to keep up the pressure on the courts to uphold the imposed discipline.

Monahan remains confident of the round’s standing in LIV Golf duel as well.

Late last month, in response to LIV Golf’s bumper payout, Monahan announced significant increases in prize money at upcoming PGA Tour events, adding that the tour would “finally emerge from the current challenge stronger because of our loyalty and support to our players and fans.”

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