South African Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural individual stroke-play competition of the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series on Saturday.
With the victory, Schwartzel earned $4 million for the three-round, 54-hole event. The 37-year-old shot 7-under at the Centurion Golf Club outside London, finishing one stroke clear of Hennie du Plessis.
Schwartzel’s four-man team, Stinger GC, also won the team competition by 14 shots over Crushers GC and will split the $3 million prize. The 2011 Masters champion combined payday for winning both individual and team contests is $4.75 million.
Phil Mickelson finished in 34th place on 10-over in the 48-player field. Dustin Johnson placed eighth, and ended the tournament on 1-under.
Fronted by former world No. 1 Greg Norman, the LIV Golf series runs from June to October with the aim, it says, to “holistically improve the health of professional golf on a global scale to help unlock the sports’ (sic) untapped potential.”
It is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the man who a US intelligence report named as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.
The source of the money has led to queries and criticism aimed at organizers and players about choosing to play for money from the country given its human rights record.
The country has been criticized by human rights groups for years. In March, Saudi Arabia executed 81 men in the biggest mass execution in decades. Rights groups have criticized the country for executing people who were minors at the time of the offenses for which they were convicted.
Mickelson was the main focus of attention at the inaugural tournament, mainly because he is one of the sport’s biggest stars but also because this will be his first competitive event since his controversial comments about the Saudi Arabian-funded events were published earlier this year by his biographer.
The six-time major winner was quoted from a 2021 interview with author Alan Shipnuck for his upcoming book, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” as saying disparaging things about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and asserting that the kingdom killed journalist Khashoggi.
The next LIV Golf tournament is scheduled for June 30-July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club near Portland, Oregon.