Berliner Tageblatt - Saudi-backed LIV is golf's World Series Cricket, says Mickelson

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Saudi-backed LIV is golf's World Series Cricket, says Mickelson
Saudi-backed LIV is golf's World Series Cricket, says Mickelson / Photo: © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

Saudi-backed LIV is golf's World Series Cricket, says Mickelson

Six-time major-winner Phil Mickelson compared Saudi-funded LIV Golf to the short-lived but influential World Series Cricket of the 1970s on Thursday, insisting he had picked "the winning side".

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Mickelson, speaking ahead of LIV's first event on home soil in Saudi Arabia, said the divisive tour was following a similar template to Australian tycoon Kerry Packer's rebel cricket series.

LIV, bankrolled by oil-rich Saudi's giant Public Investment Fund (PIF), has lured dozens of players with head-turning signing fees and $25 million purses, opening a deep rift in the sport.

"I think you look back into the 1970s, what happened with cricket is probably the best analogy," Mickelson told reporters at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast.

"For a long, long time, like 30 years, pretty much all the best players played on the PGA Tour. That will never be the case again.

"You have to pick what side you think is going to be successful, and I firmly believe that I'm on the winning side of how things are going to evolve."

The 1977-1979 World Series divided cricket but popularised one-day and day-night matches, still staples of the sport, before the breakaway venture ended when Packer struck a deal with the Australian board.

When asked what was to stop LIV following a similar path, Mickelson reiterated that the World Series had "totally changed" cricket.

"I didn't grow up with cricket but I am becoming somewhat aware of what Kerry Packer did to evolve cricket and to pay professional cricket players a reasonable fee," the American said.

"I think they were making $200 a game back in the '70s and they weren't getting paid and there wasn't television rights and they were all having other jobs, and yet there was still money coming in.

"And when Kerry Packer came and got involved and started paying the guys what they were worth and what they were bringing in, it totally changed and we're seeing that happen now."

- 'Make a bunch of cash' -

LIV, whose name is made up of the Roman numerals for '54', is played over 54 holes and three days, instead of 72 in four days, with no cut. Only 48 players take part, rather than the usual field of about 140.

Like Packer's rebels, LIV players have been heavily criticised by fans and golf's establishment, including the US PGA Tour which has barred them from its events and Team USA at the Ryder Cup.

With no points available on LIV they are slipping down the world rankings, endangering their chances of playing in the majors.

The financial rewards are huge, however. Mickelson, who has plunged to his lowest ranking in decades, 138th, coincidentally banked an estimated $138 million by July, most of it from his LIV signing fee, according to Forbes.

Mickelson said players stand to "make a bunch of cash" at this week's tournament in King Abdullah Economic City, an isolated development an hour's drive north of Jeddah.

"I see LIV Golf trending upwards and I see PGA Tour trending downwards, and I love the side that I'm on," he said.

"The game of golf is very lucky to have the PIF invest in the game," added the left-hander.

"The game of golf is being influxed with billions of dollars now. And the ability to go global and make golf a truly global sport is really beneficial for the game."

Saudi's expanding portfolio of sports events has drawn accusations of "sportswashing", or using high-profile tournament to distract from its human rights record.

This week's tournament also coincides with a growing row between Saudi Arabia and the United States, after President Joe Biden threatened "consequences" for an OPEC cut to oil production.