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PGA Tour Can Bar LIV Golfers From Playoff, Judge Rules

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A federal judge on Tuesday rebuffed an effort by three LIV Golf players to compete on this week’s FedEx Cup playoffs, giving the PGA Tour interim support because it faces an rebellion over the invitational series financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

The choice was an early, if narrowly tailored, victory for the PGA Tour’s efforts to undercut LIV Golf, which has spent recent months draining the more established tour of among the star power it relies on to attract fans, television money and sponsorships.

Although 11 players, including the key champions Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, sued the Tour last week over its decision to bar them from its competitions, only three — Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford — asked Judge Beth Labson Freeman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to order that they be allowed to compete within the playoffs, which is able to begin on Thursday at T.P.C. Southwind in Memphis.

Judge Freeman, near the top of a Tuesday afternoon hearing in San Jose, Calif., said that she didn’t consider the players would suffer “irreparable harm” in the event that they weren’t allowed to play, a significant legal standard to secure a short lived restraining order.

The players’ guaranteed-pay contracts with LIV Golf, she said, made it likely that they’d “be earning greater than they’ve made and will reasonably have expected to make in an affordable time period” with the PGA Tour.

Furthermore, she said, the arrangements between LIV Golf and the players had been negotiated with the potential lack of PGA Tour compensation in mind.

Gooch, Jones and Swafford have combined for greater than $37 million in profession earnings, based on PGA Tour data.

However the players, in a court filing last week and in San Jose on Tuesday, argued that the PGA Tour had defied its internal rules to exclude them from an event that results in one among golf’s most lucrative paydays. The playoffs, scheduled to conclude late this month, also can clear the way in which for a player’s participation in men’s golf’s major tournaments: the British Open, the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open and the P.G.A. Championship.

“Large bonuses, big purses, substantial retirement plan payments, sponsorship, branding, and essential business opportunities are at stake,” lawyers for the players wrote in a motion. The PGA Tour’s suite of tactics against LIV Golf and its players, they asserted, “are obviously anticompetitive, as they serve no purpose but to thwart competition and maintain its monopsony.”

The PGA Tour, in a filing on Monday that condemned LIV as “a technique by the Saudi government to make use of sports in an effort to enhance its repute for human rights abuses and other atrocities,” insisted that “antitrust laws don’t allow plaintiffs to have their cake and eat it too.”

LIV golfers, the filing suggested, couldn’t expect to cycle between LIV events and PGA Tour competitions and break “contracts without consequence.”

Besides, PGA Tour officials asserted, the players waited until the playoffs’ start was imminent to bring a legal challenge, effectively conjuring an emergency for Judge Freeman to think about.

“Their ineligibility for Tour events was foreseeable after they accepted thousands and thousands from LIV to breach their agreements with the Tour, they usually knew for a undeniable fact that they were suspended on June 9,” the PGA Tour wrote, adding that other players who qualified for the playoffs and joined the lawsuit had not challenged their exclusions. (A lawyer for the players, Robert C. Walters, told Judge Freeman on Tuesday that the character of the suspensions became clear only last week.)

Tuesday’s ruling was an early one within the turmoil that might shadow golf for years, partially since the litigation could prove protracted. Away from the courthouse, LIV has announced plans to expand to 14 events in 2023, up from eight this yr. It has also said it should offer $405 million in purses next yr, compared with $255 million this yr, for events expected to incorporate such players as Dustin Johnson, Sergio García and Brooks Koepka.

The PGA Tour, determined to preserve its standing because the pre-eminent circuit for skilled male golfers, has suspended defectors, and a few organizers of the key tournaments have signaled that they may try to maintain LIV players out of their 2023 fields. The PGA Tour’s efforts have led to scrutiny: The Justice Department has been exploring whether the strategies ran afoul of federal antitrust laws, a very sensitive subject for skilled and collegiate sports organizers in the US.

Whilst LIV has attracted a few of golf’s best-known figures, the PGA Tour has maintained a reservoir of support amongst elite players. Tiger Woods criticized LIV on the eve of last month’s British Open, where organizers made plain that Greg Norman, the LIV chief executive and a two-time Open champion, was unwelcome. Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, who’ve a combined six major titles, have also been amongst essentially the most forceful Tour loyalists.

Norman told Fox News Channel this summer that LIV had offered Woods “within the neighborhood” of $700 million to $800 million if he joined the series.

Gooch, Jones and Swafford command far less attention. Gooch, ranked twentieth within the playoff standings, finished in a tie for thirty fourth on the British Open in July, but his career-best showing in a significant was a tie for 14th.

This yr’s Masters marked the primary time Swafford, 67th within the playoff standings, survived the cut at a significant. Jones, sixty fifth within the playoff rankings, missed weekend play at the one major he contested in 2022, the P.G.A. Championship.

The boys haven’t qualified for next yr’s majors. When the players asked Judge Freeman to intervene, their lawyers said that keeping them from the playoffs would likely doom their probabilities of competing in those tournaments, starting with the Masters in April.

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