LIV Golf, financed by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund, has created an enormous scission in golf since it began poaching players from the PGA Tour by making huge payments to competitors. Players who have already signed up include Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
Henrik Stenson was also stripped of Europe’s Ryder Cup captaincy for agreeing to join the series, and golfers who have accepted offers from Liv Golf have been roundly criticized by fellow players, pundits and fans.
46-year-old Woods may have only won one major since 2008 but he remains the most recognizable name in the sport and the Saudi PIF was desperate to legitimize his series in the eyes of the public by securing his signature.
Now, Norman has confirmed the staggering figure Woods turned down.
‘That number [$800m] was out there before I became CEO,’ Norman told far-right commentator Tucker Carlson in a Fox interview. ‘So that number has been out there, yes.’
‘And, look, Tiger is a needle-mover and of course you have to look at the best of the best. So they had originally approached Tiger before I became CEO. So, yes, that number was somewhere in that neighbourhood.’
When asked why fans had responded to LIV Golf with such negativity, Norman was bemused.
‘I don’t know… I really don’t care,’ Norman replied. ‘I just love the game so much and I want to grow the game of golf and we at LIV see that opportunity not just for the men but for the women.’
LIV Golf events see 48-man fields compete across 54 holes, with up to $25m being paid to the winner, but only Johnson has signed up from the world’s current top 20. Stenson won the series’ third event at Trump National in Bedminster last weekend.
The PIF’s sports investments are highly controversial. It purchased an 80 percent stake in Newcastle last autumn from previous owner Mike Ashley, in a contentious takeover which forms part of the gulf nation’s plan to ‘sportswash’ its international image.
Sportswashing is a widely used term which describes a nation with a poor global reputation trying to launder its reputation by associating itself with successful sporting institutions and cultural touchstones. Saudi Arabia has held Formula 1 races since 2021 for the same reason, and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar’s ownership of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain respectively forms part of similar plans in those nations.
The PIF’s entertainment and technology investments include Facebook, Disney, and Nintendo.
The Middle East nations primarily make their income from oil, but with the world needing to leave oil behind and make use of more sustainable energy sources in future in order to avoid devastating climate change, they are trying to reinforce their economies by increasing tourism and international influence through sport.
The public investment fund’s sports investments have drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups, with Saudi Arabia among the worst performing countries in the world on issues including freedom of the press, LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, and the death penalty.
MORE : LIV Golf isn’t about sport – it’s about cold, hard cash
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