NEW YORK (AFP) – Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, currently ranked 86th in the world, confirmed his move to the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series on Friday (July 29).
The former world No. 2 has been sidelined since May and said he won’t actually play on the fledgling circuit until he feels he is 100 per cent recovered after surgery to repair a meniscus injury in his right knee.
“So I should be 100 per cent in the next couple of months,” Watson said in an interview during the live stream of the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey.
“I’m good now, it’s just now getting the leg to loosen up so I can hit the shots full-bore,” he said.
“I’ve got to be able to out-drive Brooks Koepka and (Bryson) DeChambeau there.”
Although he claimed the most recent of his 12 US PGA Tour titles four years ago, Watson remains a fan favorite and is another marquee name to make the leap to the lucrative series that has roiled the golf world.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, stripped of the European Ryder Cup captaincy after defecting to LIV, was the early leader at Bedminster on Friday in his first appearance in the series spearheaded by Greg Norman.
The third event of LIV’s inaugural season again sparked protests, with families of the 9/11 attacks slamming the enterprise funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund on grounds the kingdom was complicit in the attacks – allegations the Saudi government has denied.
Human rights groups say the series is designed to boost Saudi Arabia’s international reputation.
But Watson said he’d heard “nothing but great things” from the golfers who have risked the wrath of the US PGA Tour and DP World Tour to participate in the 54-hole, shotgun start tournaments that this season offer US$4 million (S$5.5 million) to the winner and US$120,000 to the last-place finisher.
The circuit has reportedly also lured players including six-time major champion Phil Mickelson and former world number one Dustin Johnson with hefty appearance contracts.
Watson said he was particularly attracted to the team aspect of the events, with players part of four-man teams battling for another $5 million in prize money this week.
“It’s not an individual sport any more,” said Watson, who plans to join LIV as a non-playing team captain until he is ready to resume competition. “It’s another thing we didn’t have and now we’re bringing it to life.”