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LIV Golf rift with PGA remains as talent, popularity, U.S. presence grow

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American Dustin Johnson and other LIV Golf competitors will participate in LIV Golf Bedminster from Friday to Sunday in Bedminster, N.J. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/71744ea49b7477e7d2136c54510f1eb7/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
American Dustin Johnson and other LIV Golf competitors will participate in LIV Golf Bedminster from Friday to Sunday in Bedminster, N.J. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo

July 27 (UPI) -- LIV Golf will nearly double its season tournament total and increase its prize pool by $150 million in 2023, despite PGA Tour pushback and controversy surrounding the Saudi-funded series, organizers said Wednesday.

The announcement came as LIV Golf prepares to tee off its second U.S.-based tournament, LIV Golf Bedminster, which will be held Friday to Sunday at Trump National Golf Bedminster in New Jersey.

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The third event of the this year's eight-tournament series will air on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.

Last month, when LIV Golf was launched, many golfers in the PGA Tour field criticized the rival competition and pledged commitments to the series' U.S.-based counterpart. The first LIV Golf field featured just four of the Top 25 and eight of the Top 100 players in the world.

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That field now includes 10 Top 50 players and 21 Top 100 players. Several of those, who jumped from the PGA Tour despite knowing they would be suspended, admitted they made the move because of LIV Golf's more lucrative prize purses and individual contract offers.

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Next year's field will play a 14 tournament schedule for a total of $405 million, compared to the $225 million purse for this year.

"LIV Golf's expanding global platform will add a new dimension to the golf ecosystem as we know it, one that provides an opportunity for players and fans around the world to help maximize our beloved sport's true potential," LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said in a news release.

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The first-place finisher this week will receive the same $4 million prize Sunday that Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace received for winning the first two LIV competitions.

No. 17 Dustin Johnson is the favorite to win this weekend at Bedminster. No. 25 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 41 Talor Gooch, No. 30 Bryson DeChambeau, No. 23 Brooks Koepka, No. 45 Patrick Reed and No. 34 Kevin Na are among other expected contenders.

The tournament and those golfers have faced backlash over recent weeks for their LIV Golf series.

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Added controversy

Unlike at the past tournament sites near London and in North Plains, Ore., Bedminster has been clouded with controversy because of its proximity to ground zero during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and because it's a Trump Organization property.

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Earlier this month, families of people killed in the attacks sent a letter to former President Donald Trump. That letter, prepared by the 9/11 Justice group and obtained by UPI, urged Trump to cancel the tournament.

Trump used a social media post last week to say that more PGA Tour golfers should join LIV. He also said he believes LIV and the PGA Tour are headed toward an "inevitable merger."

About 100 families of 9/11 victims are expected to attend a news conference Friday morning near the Trump course. Protests are expected, as well. The group released an ad, which further decried the golfers, Tuesday on YouTube.

9/11 Families United, another group that includes families of victims and survivors, also has criticized the tournament in Bedminster. That group wrote letters to LIV Golf participants and plans to meet near the tournament site.

LIV Golf released a statement last week in response to the groups.

"As we have said all along, these families have our deepest sympathy," the statement said. "While some may not agree, we believe golf is a force for good around the world."

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The National Press Club added its voice to the opposition Tuesday in a statement that slammed LIV Golf for its Saudi-backing after the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.

A U.S. intelligence report from 2021 said that the operation to murder Khashoggi was directly approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"We call on all Americans to see this unsavory attempt to minimize the grisly bone-saw attack on Khashoggi for what it is -- an attempt to sweep under the rug a brutal state-sponsored murder," the statement said.

"We call on people of conscience to reject this tournament. Do not attend. Do not watch it on television. Let it fail."

The group also called the decision "revolting" to hold the tournament at a Trump-owned course.

In January, the PGA of America announced it canceled plans to hold the PGA Championship at Bedminster after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. Another Trump course, Trump National Doral, will host LIV Golf's season-ending championship in October in Miami.

Despite the political controversies and PGA Tour opposition, LIV Golf has posted viewership growth on its virtual platforms.

Popularity grows

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Apex Marketing Group, which conducts viewership analysis, found that 323,000 unique viewers tuned in for the first LIV tournament on social media. About 274,897 unique viewers watched the first round of the second tournament.

But LIV Golf viewership increased from tournament-to-tournament when the competition picked up, as 268,494 watched the final round of the LIV Golf London and 328,000 watched the final round of LIV Golf Portland.

That boost could be evidence that the increase in talent and closer matches will draw more eyes at later tournaments.

LIV Golf's lack of a U.S. TV broadcast partner most likely will continue to bring much smaller audiences than PGA Tour events, but the series' recent hiring of former NBC/Golf Channel announcer David Feherty and interest in NBA-legend-turned star analyst and host Charles Barkley appear to be efforts to ramp-up coverage.

The LIV Golf Bedminster broadcast is expected to start at 2 p.m. EDT Friday on Facebook, YouTube and LIVGolf.com.

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